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Sustaining the future with the AWS Well-Architected Framework


Sustainability has become a buzzword in recent years, and many companies are looking for ways to adapt themselves to the rising environmental agenda and to have a greener image. However, it can be easy for companies to be superficial in their efforts by treating it mainly as a PR exercise and fail to take concrete steps to reduce their environmental impact. In reality, there’s obviously more to being green than simply putting a recycling bin in your canteen or adding a leaf to your logo. This is why the Sustainability Pillar of the AWS Well-Architected Framework (WAF) is so important as it provides a practical route with a set of clear directions to design and implement sustainable AWS workloads.

Wait! What is the Sustainability Pillar and what is the AWS WAF?

The AWS Well-Architected Framework (WAF) is a set of best practices and guidelines for designing and operating reliable, secure, and efficient workloads on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The WAF is designed to help AWS customers optimize their workloads for cost, performance, and security, while also reducing risk and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. The Sustainability Pillar is sixth and most recent addition to the Well Architected Framework pillars, and focuses on helping AWS customers design and operate sustainable workloads that reduce their environmental impact, optimize resource usage, and promote social sustainability.

Flat design illustration of a sustainable village

Understanding the Sustainability Pillar: Concepts & Principles

When building cloud workloads, the practice of sustainability is understanding the impacts of the services used, quantifying impacts through the entire workload lifecycle, and applying design principles and best practices to reduce these impacts.

As you can imagine, the reason why token gestures to sustainability are so common is that it requires commitment and insight to take things seriously and have a genuine impact. This can be an intimidating prospect for any business, especially given limited resources and the need to do all sorts of other things to stay competitive. Fortunately, this is exactly why the AWS Well-Architected Framework exists: to make the process a manageable one, with clear guidelines and principles that allow you to see your current situation, identify areas for improvement and then make the proposed changes a reality.

As ever, the AWS website is a great resource for material on what steps to take in improving the design and implementation of your cloud. In their Guide to the Sustainability PillarExternal Link, they identify the following six design principles for sustainability in the cloud:

  1. Understand your impact
  2. Establish sustainability goals
  3. Maximize utilization
  4. Anticipate and adopt new, more efficient hardware and software offerings
  5. Use managed services
  6. Reduce the downstream impact of your cloud workloads
Flat design illustration of rolling green hills, with trees and clouds

The first necessary step is to understand and measure the impact of your workload, including factors like how customers use your products and how resources are used over time. By analyzing these aspects, you can establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and find ways to improve productivity while reducing your impact on the environment. You’ll also use these insights and indicators to set achievable goals and optimize hardware efficiency for maximum utilization and energy savings.

Another big advantage of AWS is the opportunity to use managed services that can help reduce your impact in an automated way, such as moving infrequently accessed data to cold storage with Amazon S3 Lifecycle configurations or Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling to adjust capacity to meet demand. These automated features of AWS can also assist in your efforts to reduce the downstream impact of your cloud workloads and minimize the amount of energy or resources required to use your services.

Best practices

Whilst it’s very useful to have in mind a number of general principles about sustainability, often the real challenge is to see how these concepts can come to life in actual projects and workflows.

Fortunately, AWS also provide a comprehensive list of best practices for sustainability in the cloudExternal Link, and areas of cloud operation where the design guidelines can be applied. This section of their website looks into issues like region selection, development and deployment processes, and how changing usage patterns for your data, hardware and architecture can lead to more efficient resource consumption.

While evidently, this is just a short summary, the full guide provides a comprehensive set of practical recommendations for achieving sustainability in your cloud infrastructure without sacrificing cost-effectiveness.

Flat design illustration of office workers surrounded by trees

The Sustainability Pillar in practice

To further put the principles and practices in context, it’s also useful to consider a few real-world examples where they can be applied:

  • Energy-efficient AWS infrastructure: You can significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by optimizing compute and storage resources and using AWS services like AWS Auto Scaling and AWS Lambda,
  • Sustainable cloud-based applications: If you’re in the business of application development, operating in the cloud and leveraging AWS services like Amazon S3 and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances will help you to reduce infrastructure costs and minimize your carbon footprint.
  • Green data processing: By optimizing data processing workflows and using renewable energy sources for its AWS infrastructure, you could significantly reduce your environmental impact and improve your sustainability performance.
  • Sustainable AWS DevOps practices: AWS services like AWS CloudFormation and AWS CodeDeploy help you reduce infrastructure costs and improve your sustainability performance.

First steps into a greener world

So, with an understanding of general design principles and best practices, how do you start becoming a greener company when the first steps are often the hardest? One useful first point-of-call is to check out the free tools provided by AWS before heading in search of some professional advice.

Flat design illustration of dark, angular hills with clouds and a green sky

Some useful tools

As part of analysing your current set-up and taking some basic practical steps, you can employ features such as AWS Cost Explorer, AWS Trusted Advisor, and Amazon CloudWatch to monitor and optimize your resource usage, performance and cost. You can also use the dedicated tools that AWS provides to assess and improve the environmental impact of your cloud operations.

  • The customer carbon footprint toolExternal Link: a dashboard that shows you the carbon emissions associated with your usage of AWS products and services. You can use it to report on your emissions following Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards and analyse how they change over time as you optimize your cloud resources.
  • AWS Compute OptimizerExternal Link: a service that helps you choose optimal compute resources for your workloads based on performance and cost data. It can help you reduce over-provisioning, improve utilization, and lower emissions.

The next big leap: a Well-Architected Review

After looking at the theory, design principles, best practices and some useful tools, we end up almost back at the beginning: the AWS Well-Architected Framework. Tinkering around the edges of your operations is rarely enough to make a significant impact and often the only way to make a genuine difference is to seek expert help to evaluate your business from the inside to out. This is where the AWS Well-Architected Review comes in.

With the WAF at its core, the AWS Well-Architected Review is a comprehensive assessment of a company's cloud infrastructure against best practices and AWS guidelines, aimed at identifying areas of improvement and optimization. By employing certified AWS experts, the review is a much more fundamental way to optimize cloud infrastructure to optimize your energy consumption and make the right changes to your service usage without suffering any negative effects to your performance or productivity.

In addition, experienced eyes can be much more insightful in identifying areas where waste can be reduced, such as unused or underutilized resources, and help you implement strategies for better resource management. In this way, an AWS Well-Architected Review is the definitive way for you to improve your sustainability practices and reduce your environmental impact.

Make your cloud operations more sustainable

Are you interested in exploring how our AWS-certified experts can start showing you the way to a greener cloud operation? Contact us today to schedule your AWS Well-Architected Review and take the first step towards a more sustainable future for your business.

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