by  Igor Shenderchuk

Overcome Growing Pains With An Infrastructure Review: Part 2

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What makes an Azure Well-Architected Review process?

In our last blog, we presented the basics of an Azure Well-Architected Framework and explained how it can help accelerate your company’s cloud modernization journey.

Using the Azure Well-Architected Framework, we can develop an optimized software solution, analyze it, find weak points, and give recommendations on how to fix them. Cloud solution architects have appropriate training, knowledge, and experience and usually perform the Well-Architected Review assessment. This process is the foundation of the Azure Well-Architected Review.

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Preparation

While preparing for the audit, it is necessary to first determine which software solution’s infrastructure needs to be reviewed. To do this, we involve client experts and organize an initial session to discuss the basic principles of the Azure Well-Architected Framework and explain each pillar and the review process. We offer to investigate the client’s software solutions and help them choose the one that we’ll review. Finally, we learn the basic principles and requirements of the system: what issues or concerns the client has, whether there are any specific security requirements (e.g., PCI DSS, HIPPA, NIST), whether any changes to the system are planned soon, or whether the client has other priorities like reducing costs or increasing productivity.

Assessment

After the preparation phase is complete, we move onto the review process, where we use the five pillars of the Azure Well-Architected Framework. The review consists of technical interviews, surveys, and discussions of all the pillars in succession.

Microsoft provides free access to the Azure Well-Architected Assessment tool, which contains 64 questions (at the time of writing this article) for all pillars. Each question contains up to 10 answer options and a field for entering notes.

We plan an hour-long technical interview for each pillar. The respondents involved should be linked to the chosen system: Product Owner, Head of Development, Technical Lead, Architect, CTO, and others. During the technical interview, we go through all the questions about the tool, discuss the details, ask derivative questions, and capture relevant information (this data will be needed for future analysis). During these sessions we help the client understand how to build the best software solution for their business needs. For example, we explain the most efficient ways to monitor their system or organize their resources to reduce costs. These sessions are also used to familiarize the client with the best practices, features of the cloud provider, and industry standards.

Report preparation

At this stage, our architects conduct an analysis and prepare a report. The review determines the balance for each unique software solution and infrastructure, and there is always more than one correct answer. Therefore, our experts identify both positive and negative aspects and the methods of balancing them in the environment. For example, suppose the client is looking for a way to reduce costs. In that case, our architect must find a way to optimize these costs to not critically compromise reliability or security.

On the other hand, if the client wants to dramatically increase productivity, it can cause a significant jump in expenses. Our architects need to examine these caveats and propose a well-thought-out solution. In any case, the purpose of the review is to find a balance among all parts of the client’s cloud infrastructure.

Eventually, we prepare a list of critical points, risks, and recommendations based on the client’s responses, the report provided by the Well-Architected Review tool, and our analysis. Finally, all suggestions are ranked by importance, from critical to good ones.

Report presentation and next steps

The infrastructure analysis report contains technical assumptions, analysis summaries, and recommendations. At this stage, we present the information, pay attention to the risks and critical points, inform the client about all the significant findings identified during the analysis, and outline methods to solve the issues. We explain why we consider specific points critical during the presentation and how they can be eliminated. The client can get familiar with the rest of the recommendations, and ways to implement them, by viewing the materials that we send them.

After the presentation, the client decides whether to follow the recommendations or leave the current state of the infrastructure as it is. To bring the review to a conclusion, a team of experts helps the client decide, suggests ways to restructure the infrastructure, and offers further consulting and technical services to bring the system to the required level.

Case Study

One of our clients, a logistics industry company, needed help to determine the current level of their infrastructure, identifying and correcting threats. They were primarily concerned about cost optimization in their cloud environment.

This was an excellent opportunity for us to conduct an Azure Well-Architected Review. The process helps identify practical solutions for cost optimization, considering trade-offs with other components of the system. Together with the client’s experts, our Architect disassembled the software solution and its infrastructure to explore absolutely every aspect according to the five pillars listed above. We held seven sessions with the client: the first one was devoted to the choice of software solution for the review, the following five sessions covered the pillars, and the final session focused on reporting our findings.

The client’s main requirement was to reduce costs. With this in mind, the architect conducted a review focusing on researching expenses in the current state of the infrastructure and the possible cost optimization after implementing our recommendations. The suggested improvements included maximizing process automation, reviewing all Azure resources, and replacing some with less expensive ones without losing computing power (replacing the App Service Premium (v2) plan with a newer version), and splitting the subscription to Azure services This allowed the client to simultaneously reduce costs and strengthen security.

Due to the separation and proper usage of subscriptions for Production and Dev/Test, it is possible to save up to 50% on Azure SQL, Virtual Machines, and App Services. One of the crucial recommendations for security and reliability was the usage of Azure Application Gateway as an entry point. This service is integrated with a Web Application Firewall (which protects the service from common web vulnerabilities) and can auto-scale in case of expected and unexpected loads.

In total, the review allowed us to identify more than 70 elements that needed improvement, 26 of which were critical (in terms of potential risks). We discussed and explained all the essential points and offered our assistance in implementing the suggested improvements. As a result of this Azure Well-Architected Review, the client agreed to cooperate further to improve the solution based on our recommendations.

Conclusion

A software and infrastructure review is not just a cost analysis, performance appraisal, or load-balancing test based on a single parameter. Instead, it is a comprehensive investigation that allows the clients using cloud services to research their entire system and discover the aspects which hinder or stimulate the development of their solution. Clients who are ready to go through the Azure Well-Architected Review and follow our recommendations receive an assessment report. They significantly reduce their operating costs, increase productivity and market speed, and enhance their software solutions and infrastructure efficiency.

The Well-Architected Review is an efficient way to determine if a solution complies with the current requirements of the cloud environment in which it is located and whether it is cost-effective, productive, reliable, and secure. However, there are other options for total in-depth reviews of specific areas. For example, the cost optimization service involves the participation of several experts for a period from 2 to 8 weeks, depending on the size of the infrastructure or software solution. An infrastructure assessment can last from 3 weeks to several months with a team of architects from different fields involved in the process.

The Well-Architected Review is a highly effective way to help your organization develop a clear plan for achieving reliability, security, efficiency, and productivity of your entire infrastructure in a relatively short time.

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