A breakdown of the AWS Well Architected Framework Pillars

Cloud Management

February 1, 2024 • 11 min read

Anyone who has migrated to the cloud will tell you about the unexpected complications that can soon arise in the process, which delays the completion of the migration. There are lots of decisions to be made in the process about addressing security concerns and choosing the right payment plans and options. This is why AWS created the Well Architected Framework; a set of best practices and guidelines that help users to design, build, and operate secure, efficient and reliable systems in the cloud. As part of this cloud architecture, there are 6 AWS Well Architected Framework pillars, each of which serves as a key component of fulfilling the entire framework. Following the best practices of each pillar should be fundamental to each decision you make. This article will outline the Well Architected Framework pillars and explain why they’re essential for all aspects of your cloud management.  

What are the six pillars of the AWS Well Architected Framework? 

  • Security
  • Reliability
  • Performance efficiency
  • Cost optimization
  • Sustainability
  • Operational excellence 

The six pillars work together to maximize the success of your cloud management which is why some of their principles overlap. For example, when you introduce new features to be more sustainable, you’ll also optimize your costs in the process

What do we mean by “Well Architected”? 

Well Architected refers to the practice of designing and building cloud solutions that adhere to a set of best practices and principles. These practices encompass areas such as security, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimization, and operational excellence. A well-architected system is not only functional but also optimized, resilient, and aligned with the specific goals and requirements of the organization, ensuring it can scale and adapt effectively in the cloud environment. AWS has taken all of these cloud best practices and included them within one framework, which defines 6 key pillars.

Who should adhere to the AWS Well-Architected Framework? 

Regardless of the size of the organization or the nature of its solution, the framework offers invaluable benefits for any kind of organization. It’s a versatile tool and the simplest option to promote the creation of robust, secure, and efficient cloud architectures, enabling organizations to harness the full potential of AWS services while aligning with best practices. It’s important to note that the framework can be implemented in phases, and there’s no need, nor is it recommended, to undertake complete remediation in a single project. This phased approach allows organizations to continually refine their AWS workloads and achieve sustainable excellence over time.

Why are the Well Architected Framework pillars important? 

When creating a new cloud workload or migrating to the cloud, if you don’t have the correct foundation in place, structural vulnerabilities can impact your business. By focusing on the following 6 AWS Well Architected pillars, you achieve a holistic framework for assessing and improving cloud architectures. Essentially, you perfect the foundation of your workloads so your cloud environment can work optimally for your business requirements. These pillars help ensure that cloud architectures are secure, reliable, cost-effective, and efficient. 

Each of these pillars comes with a distinct set of principles and inquiries that you can use to assess how this aspect affects the solution you are constructing. Let’s explore these in more detail.

A diagram of the 6 well architected framework pillars

The AWS Well Architected Security pillar 

The Security pillar of the AWS Well Architected Framework focuses on designing, implementing, and maintaining security controls and best practices to protect data, systems, and assets in the cloud. It is an ongoing practice that involves dedicated focus. Its primary purpose is to ensure that cloud architectures are secure and that security remains a top priority throughout the entire lifecycle of a workload or application. Achieving a strong security posture is critical to preventing data breaches, unauthorized access, and reducing attack surface.  

Core principles for achieving the Security pillar

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM): Protect your environment by adopting a Zero-Trust approach. This includes but is not limited to:
    • Implementing strong and granular IAM policies.
    • Using multi-factor authentication (MFA) where appropriate.
    • Regularly review and audit IAM policies and roles.
    • Following the principle of least privilege.
  • Detective controls: Maintain traceability with monitoring, logging, alerts, actions, and audits. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Implement logging and monitoring for all resources.
    • Use AWS CloudTrail and Amazon CloudWatch to monitor activities.
    • Establish automated alerting and response for security events.
    • Set up a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system if needed.
  • Infrastructure protection: Make out of security a fundamental design principle. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Segregate your workloads by deploying in multiple AWS accounts and centrally manage the AWS organization with a cloud landing zone. 
    • Apply network security best practices using security groups and Network Access Control Lists (NACLs).
    • Segment your network using Amazon VPC.
    • Use AWS WAF (Web Application Firewall) to protect against web application attacks.
    • Implement DDoS protection using AWS Shield.
  • Data protection: Ensure your data is protected, it remains private and ready to be recovered in case of an incident. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Take advantage of automation to implement security and recovery measures such as ensuring encryption, backup, etc.
    • Encrypt data at rest and in transit using AWS Key Management Service (KMS).
    • Follow best practices for data classification and access controls.
    • Implement data masking and tokenization as needed.
    • Regularly assess and manage data protection policies.
  • Incident response: This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Have a well-defined incident response plan.
    • Regularly test and review the plan.
    • Implement automated incident response procedures.
    • Continuously improve the response process based on lessons learned.
  • Establish and maintain a security governance model: This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Conduct regular security reviews and assessments.
    • Define and enforce security policies.
    • Continuously improve security posture through feedback and lessons learned.
    • Continuously monitor and implement new security best practices.
  • Risk management: This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Identify and assess risks associated with your workloads.
    • Implement controls to mitigate identified risks.
    • Regularly review and update risk assessments.
    • Establish a risk management process to manage and track risks over time.
  • Security best practices: Ensure your alignment with AWS Security best practices is monitored and up to date. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Keep up to date with AWS security best practices and guidelines.
    • Implement recommended security configurations and settings.
    • Leverage AWS security services and features.
    • Stay informed about new threats and vulnerabilities (AWS Security Bulletins).
  • Compliance: Ensure continued compliance monitoring and deviation remediations. This includes, but is not limited to: 
    • Ensure compliance with relevant regulations and standards.
    • Use AWS services and features that facilitate compliance (AWS Config, Autoremediations, Service Control Policies, etc).
    • Use a multi account landing zone and grouping workloads accounts based on compliance needs in different Organizational Units, with specific service control policies. 
    • Perform regular compliance audits and assessments.
    • Document compliance measures and reports.

Example of implementing the Security Well Architected pillar 

The best way to adhere to the core principles of the Security pillar is to implement a cloud landing zone: a well-architected, multi-account environment that serves as a foundation for securely deploying, managing, and scaling AWS workloads and resources. A landing zone provides a predefined set of best practices, security controls, and policies that ensure a consistent and secure foundation for AWS workloads, minimizing the risk of misconfigurations or vulnerabilities. It also allows for the segregation of resources into multiple accounts, facilitating fine-grained access control and isolation of critical data, further enhancing security.

The AWS management platform, StackZone, sets up your landing zone effortlessly with advanced features powered by automation. 

A diagram that compares standard landing zones to StackZone's landing zones

Reliability pillar

The AWS Reliability pillar focuses on designing cloud architectures that are highly available, resilient, and capable of recovering from failures. Its primary purpose is to ensure that systems can deliver the desired level of performance and availability, even in the midst of disruptions or hardware failures. For example, if you have a sudden surge or you introduce a new feature, will your reliability be impacted by a lack of network bandwidth?

Achieving reliability is crucial to maintaining a positive user experience and preventing costly downtime even as you scale. This pillar helps you navigate each cloud decision you make to ensure it doesn’t cause a detriment to user experience or your resilience level to security threats.  

Core principles of achieving the AWS Reliability pillar 

  • Distributed systems: Design your applications to be distributed and grow across multiple Availability Zones (AZs) and regions for high availability and resilience. Implement horizontal scaling rather than vertical scaling.
  • Recovery planning: Develop a robust disaster recovery plan, including automated backup, data replication, and automated recovery processes.
  • Change management: Implement change management practices and use automation tools for controlled infrastructure changes.
  • Performance efficiency: Optimize performance through monitoring, scaling, and load balancing to handle varying workloads.

Example of implementing the Reliability pillar

The SaaS scale-up, Vitaccess wanted to ensure they were getting the most out of the cloud to create the best customer experience. So, they attended one of StackZone’s Well Architected days to discover several areas of improvement needed to fulfill the Reliability pillar and therefore boost the agility of their product. 

Vitaccess chose to utilize a Cloud Managed Service that incorporates StackZone’s cloud management platform along with its Cost Control and AWS Helpdesk extensions, enabling them to consolidate and visualize all of their cloud resources in one central hub through the utilization of StackZone, powered by AWS CloudFormation. Their implementation of a Governance Framework resulted in a decrease in Well-Architected Review findings to fewer than 20 in the initial 30 days of adopting StackZone. StackZone drastically improved their infrastructure so they could invest their time and attention into their product. 

Performance Efficiency pillar 

The Performance Efficiency pillar focuses on optimizing the use of computing resources to ensure that applications and workloads run efficiently and cost-effectively with reduced latency and waste. It’s all about using your computing resources efficiently regardless of the level of demand. 

Core principles of the Performance Efficiency pillar 

  • Select the right resources: Choose the appropriate AWS resources and instance types that align with your workload’s requirements. Optimize CPU, memory, and storage based on actual needs to avoid over-provisioning. Continuously optimize your environments by monitoring and implementing corrective actions through performance monitoring tools such as AWS Compute Optimizer.  
  • Economies of scale: Take advantage of AWS’s pricing model by using larger, longer-term reserved instances or savings plans. Utilize consolidated billing for multiple accounts within an organization to optimize costs. Periodically analyse your cost optimization opportunities and define budget and budget alerts.
  • Monitoring and optimization: Implement monitoring and alerting using services like Amazon CloudWatch to track performance metrics and identify optimization opportunities. Adjust resource configurations as needed to maintain efficiency.
  • Matching supply with demand: Implement autoscaling and load balancing to dynamically adjust resources in response to varying workloads. Use services like Amazon Auto Scaling to ensure you have the right capacity at all times.
  • Use serverless and managed services: Leverage serverless computing and managed AWS services to offload operational overhead and let AWS manage infrastructure provisioning and scaling automatically.
  • Data tier optimization: Optimize data storage and database performance by selecting appropriate storage classes, implementing data tiering, and using caching strategies.
  • Review architectures regularly: Continuously assess your architecture for optimization opportunities. Regularly review your architecture to incorporate the latest AWS services and features for performance and cost improvements.
  • Experimentation and testing: Create a culture of experimentation and testing to validate performance and cost assumptions. Use tools like AWS Trusted Advisor to identify potential optimizations.

Example of the AWS Performance Efficiency pillar 

Using StackZone helps to meet the requirements of the AWS Performance Efficiency pillar with its hundreds of features. We go beyond what AWS expects by encrypting data with StackZone’s Key Management Services (KMS). 

KMS keys are closely related to the Performance Efficiency pillar in the AWS Well-Architected Framework. They impact performance by encrypting data at rest and in transit, necessitating a balance between security and efficiency. Key rotation, a security best practice, can affect performance if not managed well. Optimizing key caching and management can reduce cryptographic operation latency. Moreover, integration with various AWS services requires careful key selection to ensure that encryption does not hinder performance. 

StackZone will automate the creation of a variety of AWS KMS Keys for you to use in each AWS Account within your AWS Organization. There are separate keys to use with different services such as EBS Volume Encryption, CloudWatch Logs Encryption, and Backup Encryption which encrypts AMIs and snapshots. Each of these KMS Keys are created in every activated AWS Region with an appropriate policy already attached. The reason why this is powerful is because of StackZone’s remediation, the console will always use regional CMK for Logs Encryption to ensure your CloudWatch Log Groups are encrypted with the StackZone Logs KMS Key.

The Cost Optimization pillar 

The mission you should have with cloud cost optimization is to increase your cloud utilization for maximum value at the most cost-effective rates.  Cost optimization ensures you’re covered for what cloud resources you need and also prepared for a sudden surge. In other words, optimizing your AWS environment to ensure that you are getting the best value for your investment while meeting your performance and operational requirements. 

Core principles of the Cost Optimization pillar  

  • Adopt a consumption model: Define and follow your cloud cost strategy, and ensure to include it as a fundamental design principle. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Pay only for the computing resources you consume.
    • Use saving plans, on-demand, reserved, and spot instances based on your workload’s requirements.
    • Leverage auto-scaling to adjust resources to match demand.
  • Measure overall efficiency: Create the needed data to make data-based decisions. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Continuously monitor and assess the efficiency of your workloads.
    • Analyze cost, resource utilization, and performance metrics.
    • Use AWS Cost Explorer to gain insights into spending patterns.
  • Analyze and attribute expenditure: Identify how your costs are generating. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Tag and categorize resources to attribute costs to specific teams, projects, or applications.
    • Implement cost allocation and chargeback mechanisms to ensure accountability.
  • Use cost-effective storage: Ensure storage cost optimization is one of the fundamental design principles. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Optimize storage costs by selecting appropriate storage classes and tiers.
    • Implement data lifecycle policies to transition or delete data when it’s no longer needed.
  • Take advantage of discounts: Ensure your pricing model is the right one for your usage.
    • Purchase Reserved Instances (RIs) and Savings Plans to reduce costs for predictable workloads.
    • Explore volume discounts and Enterprise Agreements (EAs) for larger organizations.
    • Use Spot instances for interruption-tolerant workloads.
  • Optimize for business value:
    • Prioritize cost optimization efforts based on business priorities and objectives.
    • Balance cost reduction with the need for performance, security, and availability.
  • Iterate to improve: Ensure cost optimization is an essential part of your cloud management culture.
    • Foster a culture of continuous cost optimization and innovation.
    • Regularly review your architecture and spending to identify opportunities for improvement.
    • Invest in cloud financial management. Managing your cloud costs requires dedicated time and tools.

Example of implementing the Cost Optimization pillar 

Using the Cloud management platform, StackZone, AutoSpotting will be deployed on every account and region. AutoSpotting is a cost optimization tool that automates the use of Amazon EC2 Spot Instances on AWS. It helps users save on EC2 costs by efficiently managing Spot Instances, aligning with the Cost Optimization pillar’s principle of adopting a consumption model and optimizing for variable demand. The tool automates resource provisioning and replacement, eliminating manual intervention and reducing the risk of over-provisioning. 

Another way StackZone helps you to effortlessly achieve the Cost Optimization pillar is through the EBS Optimizer. This automated feature swaps Amazon EBS volumes from the more expensive general purpose variant, known as gp2, to the newer, more cost-effective general purpose volume known as gp3. 

The cost optimization features of StackZone can be found on the cost management portal within the software, meaning you don’t need to log into AWS to enable these features. You can see your cost reports, set budgets for different accounts, view findings and intelligent suggestions to take your budget further which you can activate in one click, all from one place. 

The Operational Excellence pillar 

The Operational Excellence pillar focuses on optimizing the operational aspects of your workloads and applications. It aims to help organizations build systems that can be operated efficiently, monitored effectively, and continuously improved. The objective of striving for operational excellence is to efficiently and consistently deliver new features and bug fixes to customers promptly.  

The core principles of the Operational Excellence pillar

  • Automate: Perform operations as code so all actions and modifications made within the AWS environment are programmatically scripted. This approach is essential as it necessitates the ability to create scripts for any tasks typically carried out through the AWS Management Console, reducing manual intervention. By utilizing automation, you ensure that outcomes remain consistent and predictable across your operations. 
  • Evolve: Continuously review and refine your operational procedures and processes based on lessons learned and evolving best practices. Regularly update and improve your operational runbooks.
  • Learn: Establish a culture of learning from incidents and failures. Conduct thorough post-incident reviews (post-mortems) to understand root causes and prevent recurrence. Use techniques like chaos engineering to proactively identify weaknesses.
  • Measure: Leverage data and metrics to make informed operational decisions. Implement monitoring and alerting to gain visibility into system health and performance.

Example of implementing the Operational Excellence pillar 

Service quotas for fast-scaling organizations, StackZone’s service quotas keep their AWS environments aligned with the Operational Excellence pillar. When a new AWS Account is added to your Organization and managed by StackZone, it requests a number of predefined Service quotas to be raised (Accounts per Organization, EIPs per region, ALBS’s per region for example). Service quotas are limits set by AWS which limit you to a set amount of services. These can be raised via a request to AWS. However, StackZone is one step ahead by monitoring your environments 24/7 and requesting more service quotas automatically so you don’t need to.  In simple terms, it means you don’t suddenly hit limits and have to pause operations until you have more cloud storage. 

Sustainability pillar 

The newly-introduced AWS Well Architected pillar of Sustainability involves analyzing the environmental, social, and economic impact of your business and making more beneficial choices. Your energy consumption can soon spiral with cloud usage if you don’t keep an eye on it. The goal of the Sustainability pillar is to minimize waste and maximize utilization. 

The core principles of the AWS Sustainability pillar 

  • Acknowledge the impact: Understand your environmental footprint taking into account factors like customer usage, decommissioning, and retirement. Compare this impact to the productive output by assessing the resources and emissions needed per unit of work. This analysis enables you to pinpoint areas for productivity improvement.
  • Measure: Establish sustainability objectives to serve as benchmarks for tracking progress and aligning with your organization’s broader sustainability mission.
  • Improve: Optimize resource utilization to reduce energy consumption. Consider adopting more efficient hardware and software options to reduce the environmental impact of your cloud workloads.
  • 360 view: Reduce the necessity for customers to upgrade their devices to access your services and conduct thorough scale testing, you can significantly reduce the energy and resources required, contributing to a more sustainable cloud ecosystem.

An example of implementing the AWS Sustainability pillar 

The StackZone AWS Compute Optimizer collects data about your Amazon EC2 Instances and offers optimization suggestions. It might propose improving performance by switching to a different instance type or cost savings by downsizing if your current instance seems underutilized. This data and these recommendations, available in the report, empower you to make informed decisions regarding adjustments to your Amazon EC2 Instance Fleets.

This supports the Sustainability Pillar by promoting resource efficiency and cost savings. By suggesting optimized Amazon EC2 instance configurations, it helps organizations reduce their computing resource consumption, leading to a smaller carbon footprint and decreased energy usage in data centers. This not only enhances operational sustainability but also aligns with environmental conservation efforts.

How to achieve the AWS Well Architected Framework pillars? 

From this information on the Well Architected pillars, it’s clear that adhering to the framework isn’t something you quickly achieve once and for all. Once you’re aligned with the Well Architected Framework pillars, you need to continuously monitor and make decisions that resonate with the six pillars. 

Achieving this manually can soon turn into an expensive and time-consuming project whereas the AWS management console, StackZone, can help an organization achieve AWS best practices compliance and is set up within 2 working days. This superfast deployment time is because StackZone has a Well Architected framework blueprint which is a pre-defined set of configuration and compliance settings that can be applied to bring your cloud settings in line with the six pillars’ principles. 

The user-friendly console not only provides complete visibility into your cloud environments but it’s centered around automation and auto-remediation, making it effortless to implement pillar items around the clock. There’s also the option to select self-follow-up on Well Architected Framework compliance to plan continued improvements. 

You can read the AWS Well-Architected blueprint to find out how to improve your cloud infrastructure by aligning to the AWS Well-Architected framework pillars. StackZone intelligently automates the deployment of necessary AWS features for compliance with cloud best practices as well as simplified cloud management.   

Inside the StackZone console

Final thoughts 

This article serves as an overview of the AWS Well Architected Framework pillars and reveals the huge extent of effort and discipline needed to be aligned with the framework. By implementing the AWS six pillars’ principles, you improve system reliability, performance, security, cost-effectiveness, and operational efficiency in cloud environments, ultimately leading to enhanced customer experiences and greater business agility. To simplify your cloud management and achieve compliance with AWS best practices to accelerate your business goals, StackZone is the tool you need to save your teams hours upon hours. Book a demo and one of our experts will take you through the console and explain how StackZone can meet your business requirements. 

This article was written by Gastón Silbestein, Co-Founder of StackZone

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