4 Key Things to Know about Well-Architected Reviews

A Brief Overview of Well-Architected 

You’re probably familiar with the AWS Well-Architected Framework (WAF), and likely heard of the Well-Architected Review (WAR) too, but maybe you’re uncertain about the effort and/or costs associated with conducting a WAR.  If this is the case, you’ve come to the right blog post.  In this article we’ll reinforce the value of Well-Architected Review and clear up some of the key concerns customers have when considering whether a WAR session is right for them.  If we’ve hit the mark, the reader will come away with a better understanding of the overall effort required to participate in a successful Review. 

We assume the reader is generally familiar with WAF, which is an AWS best practices guide for cloud architects to build secure, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for their applications.  If you want to learn more you can head over to p1’s Well-Architected Review page to find more detailed information and links to AWS WAF content.  The AWS content on the topic is extensive. 

A Well-Architected Review is a practical application of the 5 Pillars of the Framework to a specific workload running in AWS.  If nothing else, the most important point to take away from the entire post is this:  

The benefits of conducting WAR sessions on key AWS workloads almost always justify the effort required to execute them  

This is because they are low cost – often free – and generally require modest effort to find opportunities for improvement.  More than 80% of Well-Architected Reviews uncover at least 3 issues that AWS classifies as “high risk” (HRI).  This may sound ominous, but in most cases an HRI is simply a suggested change to one or more aspects of the architecture with known benefits that outweigh the effort required to make the change.  

While it is clear that WAR sessions are valuable, the ultimate goal of the post is to demystify key aspects of the cadence and effort required to execute a WAR session.  Here are 4 key things to know when considering a Well-Architected Review:

1 – It’s not an Audit

A typical comment we receive when discussing a potential Review with a customer is, “I’m not interested in being audited.”  It is not an audit.  At least, not in the vein of the dreaded IT audits that typically serve as the basis for the concern.  

First, it is not a vendor-led inquiry to determine if you are using AWS resources without paying for them.  Using AWS resources without paying for them doesn’t happen, so no need to worry about that.  By the way, if you’ve figured out how to do just that, please contact us.  We definitely have a job for you.  Kidding… 

It’s also not an “IT tribunal” intended to make anyone in the organization look foolish or expose a lack of AWS architectural knowledge.  We suppose you could run one that way but we don’t, and never will.  We definitely land in the “better to be loved than feared” camp of advisors.  Machiavelli would be disappointed, but if you ask us to run a Review for your team as an inquisition, we’ll probably quietly lose your contact information. 

What a Well-Architected Review is, is aptly described in AWS’ own words: 

  • A mechanism to teach, measure, and improve a workload based on the customer’s business and technical objectives 
  • To enable the customer to clearly grasp the state of the workload and enhance their understanding of architectural best practices  
  • To identify suggested changes to be made to mitigate risk and improve the workload 

Enough said.  No audit here.  Just good ol’ fashioned continuous improvement. 

2 – They aren’t Expensive 

In most cases the hard costs of conducting a WAR review are nothing.  Zero. Zilch. This is true whether you conduct the WAR yourself – they can be self-guided – or you seek the guidance of a certified Well-Architected partner like p1 Technologies to take you through the process.  Your investment consists only of the time and effort your team must invest to successfully participate in the Review.   

There are some scenarios where professional services $ could be required to conduct the Review with partner guidance, but this typically occurs for large, complex workloads.  Even then, the investment rarely exceeds a few thousand dollars and of course there’s never a cost to have an exploratory conversation with p1 about a workload.

In the interest of transparency, there are generally costs associated with the follow-on work to make the suggested changes after a WAR is completed.  However, we’ll clearly outline what the costs are when we deliver the final results of the Review, and there is no commitment to make the suggested changes.  If you decide to forego the changes – or to make them yourself– there will be no hard costs, and probably no hard feelings from us either.  Maybe.  Remember, we do like being liked – and busy – and that includes our architects.     

3 – They Aren’t a Lot of Work for your Team 

Assuming you choose to work with an experienced Well-Architected partner like p1, you should expect to invest about 10 hours in the whole process for a typical workload.  This estimate includes the up-front preparation and pre-review discussion, the review itself and the post-review results discussion.  From start to finish, we can complete the whole engagement in a calendar window ranging from a few days to a few weeks, depending on your schedule.  

Yes, it will require more effort to conduct it entirely from within your organization than if you engage a certified Well-Architected partner like p1 Technologies to help, but even we have to admit it’s not that much work.  A safe estimate is 2X – 3X the effort of engaging with a certified partner.  Either way you choose, it’s not a massive commitment given the benefits a well conducted review offers.   

As you’d expect, AWS provides great documentation to guide you through the WAR process.  They’ve even built a free tool that you can access from the AWS management console to serve as the data platform for the Review.  Yes, it’s the same tool we’ll use if you choose to work with p1 Technologies.  This might have you wondering why you’d even bother engaging p1 to conduct the Review?  Rest assured, we’ll be able to streamline the process and most importantly, provide healthy doses of contextual guidance rooted in our deep AWS architecture expertise along the way.  We know some stuff. 🙂

4 –  AWS Strongly Encourages Well-Architected Reviews 

This headline should read: “AWS strongly encourages WARs…and they will help to pay for the costs of fixing HRIs.”  Specifically, they will provide up to $5,000 in usage credits towards your AWS bill if you engage with a certified Well-Architected partner like p1 Technologies and have us make the fixes to the key HRIs we find together. 

Why would AWS help you pay to optimize your workload?  Well, let’s add the disclaimer that we can’t speak for AWS with authority, and we also can’t be sure our explanation is correct.  In our opinion, though, its relatively clear.  They want you to be a satisfied customer, and one of the best ways to do that is to ensure your use of their services is optimized with the best practices they’ve developed across the many thousands of workloads in their cloud.  Its good a long-term strategy on their part to invest in your success, even if it means you might find a big, fat, cost-saving HRI that cuts your monthly bill by 30% when we fix it.  Yes…it happens. 

It’s also relatively inexpensive insurance for both you and them, consistent with the tenets of the Shared Responsibility Model.  When AWS helps customers maintain their end (“security in the cloud”) of the Shared Responsibility Model, it makes it easier for AWS to hold up their end (“security of the cloud”).  It also allows them to focus more time and effort on innovating their services for their customers.  Again…this is p1’s opinion not that of AWS, but we are confident there’s some truth in it.   

In Summary 

The Well-Architected Review is a high value but relatively simple and low effort program intended to ensure AWS workloads are optimized.  With the assistance of a qualified Well-Architected partner like p1 Technologies, the entire review process gets even easier and AWS may even help to pay for any fixes required.   

*There are some other caveats to the $5k credit offer, and we’ll be happy to explain them when you contact us to learn more about conducting a Review.  They’re modest requirements and most Reviews qualify.