On Architecture

In on-premises environments customers often have a central team for technology architecture that acts as an overlay to other product or feature teams to ensure they are following best practice. Technology architecture teams are often composed of a set of roles such as Technical Architect (infrastructure), Solutions Architect (software), Data Architect, Networking Architect, and Security Architect. Often these teams use TOGAF or the Zachman Framework as part of an enterprise architecture capability.

At AWS, we prefer to distribute capabilities into teams rather than having a centralized team with that capability. There are risks when you choose to distribute decision making authority, for example, ensuring that teams are meeting internal standards. We mitigate these risks in two ways. First, we have practices« [ Ways of doing things, process, standards, and accepted norms. ] »  that focus on enabling each team to have that capability, and we put in place experts who ensure that teams raise the bar on the standards they need to meet. Second, we implement mechanisms«Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen Jeff Bezos. This means replacing humans best efforts with mechanisms (often automated) that check for compliance with rules or process. ] »  that carry out automated checks to ensure standards are being met. This distributed approach is supported by the Amazon leadership principles, and establishes a culture across all roles that works back« [ Working backward is a fundamental part of our innovation process. We start with the customer and what they want, and let that define and guide our efforts. ] »  from the customer. Customer-obsessed teams build products in response to a customer need.

For architecture this means that we expect every team to have the capability to create architectures and to follow best practices. To help new teams gain these capabilities or existing teams to raise their bar, we enable access to a virtual community of principal engineers who can review their designs and help them understand what AWS best practices are. The principal engineering community works to make best practices visible and accessible. One way they do this, for example, is through lunchtime talks that focus on applying best practices to real examples. These talks are recorded and can be used as part of onboarding materials for new team members.

AWS best practices emerge from our experience running thousands of systems at internet scale. We prefer to use data to define best practice, but we also use subject matter experts like principal engineers to set them. As principal engineers see new best practices emerge they work as a community to ensure that teams follow them. In time, these best practices are formalized into our internal review processes, as well as into mechanisms that enforce compliance. Well-Architected is the customer-facing implementation of our internal review process, where we have codified our principal engineering thinking across field roles like Solutions Architecture and internal engineering teams. Well-Architected is a scalable mechanism that lets you take advantage of these learnings.

By following the approach of a principal engineering community with distributed ownership of architecture, we believe that a Well-Architected enterprise architecture can emerge that is driven by customer need. Technology leaders (such as a CTOs or development managers), carrying out Well-Architected reviews across all your workloads will allow you to better understand the risks in your technology portfolio. Using this approach you can identify themes across teams that your organization could address by mechanisms, trainings, or lunchtime talks where your principal engineers can share their thinking on specific areas with multiple teams.