The 5 Pillars of AWS Well-Architected Framework: Operational Excellence

Every software system is built to serve a specific purpose and to achieve clear objectives for a business. Everything from the design of a system to the infrastructure supporting it needs to be geared towards those collective objectives. In many ways, the way a system is designed mimics how buildings are structured; integrity and functionality are two inseparable elements that make both a structure and a system perform the best way possible to realize their intention.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) serves as the perfect foundation for a well-designed system, but in order for AWS to serve its purpose as a cloud platform designed to provide the optimal cost-effective and secure environment for its customers, it needs to be well-architected.

The Well-Architected Framework Whitepaper was first rolled out by AWS in 2015. The five pillars of AWS Well-Architected Framework act as the perfect guide to the implementation of AWS that scales well and remains effective throughout the system’s lifecycle.

In the following five blog posts we’ll cover each of the fundamental guiding principles behind the AWS Well-Architected Framework in detail. At Ibexlabs, we advocate and assist in the creation of Well-Architected infrastructure for all our clients. The best practice guidelines support important business objectives such as preventing financial loss and complying with regulatory obligations. The first of those five pillars, which we are going to discuss in this article, is operational excellence.

Operational Excellence: The Purpose

The focus of this pillar, as the name suggests, is creating and maintaining AWS-based environments that are not only efficient but also scalable and effective across the board. Setting up an environment that can fully support the system today is simply not enough.

The operational excellence pillar begins with the ability to run the system in an AWS environment and achieve the desired performance level. What makes this pillar essential, however, is the way constant monitoring, advanced learning, and improvement are integrated into the operational excellence workflow for the purpose of creating an AWS environment that excels in its functions.

By following the guidelines of this pillar, it is easier to create and maintain an AWS environment that delivers business value; the environment delivers more than sufficient support for the system. The insights gathered from constant monitoring and evaluation allows the support system – the environment as a whole – as well as the processes and procedures to be continually improved.

Basic Design Principles

To achieve its objectives, an AWS environment must be set up and maintained according to the guidelines of operational excellence in the cloud. This means following the basic design principles of this pillar, which are:

  • Perform operations as code: AWS rewards environments that are set up to rely on minimal human input. Rather than executing changes manually and increasing the risk of human error, it is better to set up the environment to allow applications, procedures, and processes to be created and maintained as codes.
  • Annotated documentation: In the cloud, there is no need to provide manual instructions to the environment and the system every time an operation needs to be completed. Rather than relying on manual inputs, it is more effective to create documentation for processes and procedures that include annotations for the systems (and human administrators) to read.
  • Rely on frequent, small, and reversible changes: Rather than applying one big patch and making several consequential changes at the same time, the recommended path is making small changes and doing things in increments. Small and frequent changes are more manageable, and they allow for better environment effectiveness in the long run.
  • Evaluate and refine procedures frequently: The cloud environment also allows for better monitoring and the collection of comprehensive insights. Applying procedures and processes as code amplifies the ability to spot potential improvements and make constant refinement more accessible.
  • Anticipate failures: As with conventional systems, it is necessary to plan for the worst-case scenario. What’s different with the cloud and the AWS environment, in particular, is that the environment can be tested through different scenarios without the usual complications. This means anticipating potential failures and worst-case scenarios is also easier.
  • Learn from the failures: The pillar’s design principles also recognize the fact that it is not possible to plan for everything. When parts of the system go wrong, the way the AWS environment is set up allows for more comprehensive learning and better contingency plans for the future.

Operational Excellence in the Cloud

The guidelines and design principles we discussed earlier allow the AWS environment (and the systems it supports) to be seen from three major points of view: preparation, operation, and evaluation. The three phases are the areas to focus on as you implement the guidelines of operational excellence.

The preparation stage involves defining the operational priorities and setting clear goals for the environment and the systems it will support. With these goals in mind, it is easier to design the environment for better support of operations and processes. The phase is concluded with a thorough readiness review conducted prior to entering the operation phase.

The operation phase is where the best AWS components really shine. Services such as the Amazon CloudWatch and Service Health Dashboard do more than provide greater control over the environment. In the case of Service Health Dashboard, for example, you can get real, actionable insights and advice on how to best refine procedures and processes.

Evaluation is the phase where you take all of these insights and monitoring results and turn them into tangible data for future improvements. This phase completes the cycle and concludes how this first pillar, operational excellence, can help your organization achieve excellence with both the systems and the AWS environments supporting them.

To sign up for a Well-Architected Review with Ibexlabs, contact us here. As APN Partners, the team at Ibexlabs can assist in making business recommendations surrounding the implications of AWS work-based designs and infrastructure. Following the review, Ibexlabs will advise an organizational roadmap to scale your business in accordance with your short to long-term goals based on the AWS Well-Architected Pillars.

AWS will also provide up to $5,000 worth of AWS credits for remediation to all customers who sign up with an AWS APN Partner for the AWS Well-Architected Program.


Ibexlabs is an experienced DevOps & Managed Services provider and an AWS consulting partner. Our AWS Certified DevOps consultancy team evaluates your infrastructure and make recommendations based on your individual business or personal requirements. Contact us today and set up a free consultation to discuss a custom-built solution tailored just for you.

Vikram Nallamala

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