Operational Excellence

The Operational Excellence pillar includes the ability to support development and run workloads effectively, gain insight into their operations, and to continuously improve supporting processes and procedures to deliver business value.

The operational excellence pillar provides an overview of design principles, best practices, and questions. You can find prescriptive guidance on implementation in the Operational Excellence Pillar whitepaper.

Design Principles

There are five design principles for operational excellence in the cloud:

Definition

There are four best practice areas for operational excellence in the cloud:

Your organization’s leadership defines business objectives. Your organization must understand requirements and priorities and use these to organize and conduct work to support the achievement of business outcomes. Your workload must emit the information necessary to support it. Implementing services to enable integration, deployment, and delivery of your workload will enable an increased flow of beneficial changes into production by automating repetitive processes.

There may be risks inherent in the operation of your workload. You must understand those risks and make an informed decision to enter production. Your teams must be able to support your workload. Business and operational metrics derived from desired business outcomes will enable you to understand the health of your workload, your operations activities, and respond to incidents. Your priorities will change as your business needs and business environment changes. Use these as a feedback loop to continually drive improvement for your organization and the operation of your workload.

Best Practices

Organization

Your teams need to have a shared understanding of your entire workload, their role in it, and shared business goals to set the priorities that will enable business success. Well-defined priorities will maximize the benefits of your efforts. Evaluate internal and external customer needs involving key stakeholders, including business, development, and operations teams, to determine where to focus efforts. Evaluating customer needs will ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the support that is required to achieve business outcomes. Ensure that you are aware of guidelines or obligations defined by your organizational governance and external factors, such as regulatory compliance requirements and industry standards, that may mandate or emphasize specific focus. Validate that you have mechanisms to identify changes to internal governance and external compliance requirements. If no requirements are identified, ensure that you have applied due diligence to this determination. Review your priorities regularly so that they can be updated as needs change.

Evaluate threats to the business (for example, business risk and liabilities, and information security threats) and maintain this information in a risk registry. Evaluate the impact of risks, and tradeoffs between competing interests or alternative approaches. For example, accelerating speed to market for new features may be emphasized over cost optimization, or you may choose a relational database for non-relational data to simplify the effort to migrate a system without refactoring. Manage benefits and risks to make informed decisions when determining where to focus efforts. Some risks or choices may be acceptable for a time, it may be possible to mitigate associated risks, or it may become unacceptable to allow a risk to remain, in which case you will take action to address the risk.

Your teams must understand their part in achieving business outcomes. Teams need to understand their roles in the success of other teams, the role of other teams in their success, and have shared goals. Understanding responsibility, ownership, how decisions are made, and who has authority to make decisions will help focus efforts and maximize the benefits from your teams. The needs of a team will be shaped by the customer they support, their organization, the makeup of the team, and the characteristics of their workload. It's unreasonable to expect a single operating model to be able to support all teams and their workloads in your organization.

Ensure that there are identified owners for each application, workload, platform, and infrastructure component, and that each process and procedure has an identified owner responsible for its definition, and owners responsible for their performance. Having understanding of the business value of each component, process, and procedure, of why those resources are in place or activities are performed, and why that ownership exists will inform the actions of your team members. Clearly define the responsibilities of team members so that they may act appropriately and have mechanisms to identify responsibility and ownership. Have mechanisms to request additions, changes, and exceptions so that you do not constrain innovation. Define agreements between teams describing how they work together to support each other and your business outcomes.

Provide support for your team members so that they can be more effective in taking action and supporting your business outcomes. Engaged senior leadership should set expectations and measure success. They should be the sponsor, advocate, and driver for the adoption of best practices and evolution of the organization. Empower team members to take action when outcomes are at risk to minimize impact and encourage them to escalate to decision makers and stakeholders when they believe there is a risk so that it can be address and incidents avoided. Provide timely, clear, and actionable communications of known risks and planned events so that team members can take timely and appropriate action.

Encourage experimentation to accelerate learning and keeps team members interested and engaged. Teams must grow their skill sets to adopt new technologies, and to support changes in demand and responsibilities. Support and encourage this by providing dedicated structure time for learning. Ensure your team members have the resources, both tools and team members, to be successful and scale to support your business outcomes. Leverage cross-organizational diversity to seek multiple unique perspectives. Use this perspective to increase innovation, challenge your assumptions, and reduce the risk of confirmation bias. Grow inclusion, diversity, and accessibility within your teams to gain beneficial perspectives.

If there are external regulatory or compliance requirements that apply to your organization, you should use the resources provided by AWS Cloud Compliance to help educate your teams so that they can determine the impact on your priorities. The Well-Architected Framework emphasizes learning, measuring, and improving. It provides a consistent approach for you to evaluate architectures, and implement designs that will scale over time. AWS provides the AWS Well-Architected Tool to help you review your approach prior to development, the state of your workloads prior to production, and the state of your workloads in production. You can compare workloads to the latest AWS architectural best practices, monitor their overall status, and gain insight into potential risks. AWS Trusted Advisor is a tool that provides access to a core set of checks that recommend optimizations that may help shape your priorities. Business and Enterprise Support customers receive access to additional checks focusing on security, reliability, performance, and cost-optimization that can further help shape their priorities.

AWS can help you educate your teams about AWS and its services to increase their understanding of how their choices can have an impact on your workload. You should use the resources provided by AWS Support (AWS Knowledge Center, AWS Discussion Forums, and AWS Support Center) and AWS Documentation to educate your teams. Reach out to AWS Support through AWS Support Center for help with your AWS questions. AWS also shares best practices and patterns that we have learned through the operation of AWS in The Amazon Builders' Library. A wide variety of other useful information is available through the AWS Blog and The Official AWS Podcast. AWS Training and Certification provides some free training through self-paced digital courses on AWS fundamentals. You can also register for instructor-led training to further support the development of your teams’ AWS skills.

You should use tools or services that enable you to centrally govern your environments across accounts, such as AWS Organizations, to help manage your operating models. Services like AWS Control Tower expand this management capability by enabling you to define blueprints (supporting your operating models) for the setup of accounts, apply ongoing governance using AWS Organizations, and automate provisioning of new accounts. Managed Services providers such as AWS Managed Services, AWS Managed Services Partners, or Managed Services Providers in the AWS Partner Network, provide expertise implementing cloud environments, and support your security and compliance requirements and business goals. Adding Managed Services to your operating model can save you time and resources, and lets you keep your internal teams lean and focused on strategic outcomes that will differentiate your business, rather than developing new skills and capabilities.

The following questions focus on these considerations for operational excellence .

OPS 1: How do you determine what your priorities are?
OPS 2: How do you structure your organization to support your business outcomes?
OPS 3: How does your organizational culture support your business outcomes?

You might find that you want to emphasize a small subset of your priorities at some point in time. Use a balanced approach over the long term to ensure the development of needed capabilities and management of risk. Review your priorities regularly and update them as needs change. When responsibility and ownership are undefined or unknown, you are at risk of both not performing necessary action in a timely fashion and of redundant and potentially conflicting efforts emerging to address those needs. Organizational culture has a direct impact on team member job satisfaction and retention. Enable the engagement and capabilities of your team members to enable the success of your business. Experimentation is required for innovation to happen and turn ideas into outcomes. Recognize that an undesired result is a successful experiment that has identified a path that will not lead to success.

Prepare

To prepare for operational excellence, you have to understand your workloads and their expected behaviors. You will then be able design them to provide insight to their status and build the procedures to support them.

Design your workload so that it provides the information necessary for you to understand its internal state (for example, metrics, logs, events, and traces) across all components in support of observability and investigating issues. Iterate to develop the telemetry necessary to monitor the health of your workload, identify when outcomes are at risk, and enable effective responses. When instrumenting your workload, capture a broad set of information to enable situational awareness (for example, changes in state, user activity, privilege access, utilization counters), knowing that you can use filters to select the most useful information over time.

Adopt approaches that improve the flow of changes into production and that enable refactoring, fast feedback on quality, and bug fixing. These accelerate beneficial changes entering production, limit issues deployed, and enable rapid identification and remediation of issues introduced through deployment activities or discovered in your environments.

Adopt approaches that provide fast feedback on quality and enable rapid recovery from changes that do not have desired outcomes. Using these practices mitigates the impact of issues introduced through the deployment of changes. Plan for unsuccessful changes so that you are able to respond faster if necessary and test and validate the changes you make. Be aware of planned activities in your environments so that you can manage the risk of changes impacting planed activities. Emphasize frequent, small, reversible changes to limit the scope of change. This results in easier troubleshooting and faster remediation with the option to roll back a change. It also means you are able to get the benefit of valuable changes more frequently.

Evaluate the operational readiness of your workload, processes, procedures, and personnel to understand the operational risks related to your workload. You should use a consistent process (including manual or automated checklists) to know when you are ready to go live with your workload or a change. This will also enable you to find any areas that you need to make plans to address. Have runbooks that document your routine activities and playbooks that guide your processes for issue resolution. Understand the benefits and risks to make informed decisions to allow changes to enter production.

AWS enables you to view your entire workload (applications, infrastructure, policy, governance, and operations) as code. This means you can apply the same engineering discipline that you use for application code to every element of your stack and share these across teams or organizations to magnify the benefits of development efforts. Use operations as code in the cloud and the ability to safely experiment to develop your workload, your operations procedures, and practice failure. Using AWS CloudFormation enables you to have consistent, templated, sandbox development, test, and production environments with increasing levels of operations control.

The following questions focus on these considerations for operational excellence .

OPS 4: How do you design your workload so that you can understand its state?
OPS 5: How do you reduce defects, ease remediation, and improve flow into production?
OPS 6: How do you mitigate deployment risks?
OPS 7: How do you know that you are ready to support a workload?

Invest in implementing operations activities as code to maximize the productivity of operations personnel, minimize error rates, and enable automated responses. Use “pre-mortems” to anticipate failure and create procedures where appropriate. Apply metadata using Resource Tags and AWS Resource Groups following a consistent tagging strategy to enable identification of your resources. Tag your resources for organization, cost accounting, access controls, and targeting the execution of automated operations activities. Adopt deployment practices that take advantage of the elasticity of the cloud to facilitate development activities, and pre-deployment of systems for faster implementations. When you make changes to the checklists you use to evaluate your workloads, plan what you will do with live systems that no longer comply.

Operate

Successful operation of a workload is measured by the achievement of business and customer outcomes. Define expected outcomes, determine how success will be measured, and identify metrics that will be used in those calculations to determine if your workload and operations are successful. Operational health includes both the health of the workload and the health and success of the operations activities performed in support of the workload (for example, deployment and incident response). Establish metrics baselines for improvement, investigation, and intervention, collect and analyze your metrics, and then validate your understanding of operations success and how it changes over time. Use collected metrics to determine if you are satisfying customer and business needs, and identify areas for improvement.

Efficient and effective management of operational events is required to achieve operational excellence. This applies to both planned and unplanned operational events. Use established runbooks for well-understood events, and use playbooks to aid in investigation and resolution of issues. Prioritize responses to events based on their business and customer impact. Ensure that if an alert is raised in response to an event, there is an associated process to be executed, with a specifically identified owner. Define in advance the personnel required to resolve an event and include escalation triggers to engage additional personnel, as it becomes necessary, based on urgency and impact. Identify and engage individuals with the authority to make a decision on courses of action where there will be a business impact from an event response not previously addressed.

Communicate the operational status of workloads through dashboards and notifications that are tailored to the target audience (for example, customer, business, developers, operations) so that they may take appropriate action, so that their expectations are managed, and so that they are informed when normal operations resume.

In AWS, you can generate dashboard views of your metrics collected from workloads and natively from AWS. You can leverage CloudWatch or third-party applications to aggregate and present business, workload, and operations level views of operations activities. AWS provides workload insights through logging capabilities including AWS X-Ray, CloudWatch, CloudTrail, and VPC Flow Logs enabling the identification of workload issues in support of root cause analysis and remediation.

The following questions focus on these considerations for operational excellence .

OPS 8: How do you understand the health of your workload?
OPS 9: How do you understand the health of your operations?
OPS 10: How do you manage workload and operations events?

All of the metrics you collect should be aligned to a business need and the outcomes they support. Develop scripted responses to well-understood events and automate their performance in response to recognizing the event.

Evolve

You must learn, share, and continuously improve to sustain operational excellence. Dedicate work cycles to making continuous incremental improvements. Perform post-incident analysis of all customer impacting events. Identify the contributing factors and preventative action to limit or prevent recurrence. Communicate contributing factors with affected communities as appropriate. Regularly evaluate and prioritize opportunities for improvement (for example, feature requests, issue remediation, and compliance requirements), including both the workload and operations procedures. Include feedback loops within your procedures to rapidly identify areas for improvement and capture learnings from the execution of operations.

Share lessons learned across teams to share the benefits of those lessons. Analyze trends within lessons learned and perform cross-team retrospective analysis of operations metrics to identify opportunities and methods for improvement. Implement changes intended to bring about improvement and evaluate the results to determine success.

On AWS, you can export your log data to Amazon S3 or send logs directly to Amazon S3 for long-term storage. Using AWS Glue, you can discover and prepare your log data in Amazon S3 for analytics, and store associated metadata in the AWS Glue Data Catalog. Amazon Athena, through its native integration with AWS Glue, can then be used to analyze your log data, querying it using standard SQL. Using a business intelligence tool like Amazon QuickSight, you can visualize, explore, and analyze your data. Discovering trends and events of interest that may drive improvement.

The following questions focus on these considerations for operational excellence .

OPS 11: How do you evolve operations?

Successful evolution of operations is founded in: frequent small improvements; providing safe environments and time to experiment, develop, and test improvements; and environments in which learning from failures is encouraged. Operations support for sandbox, development, test, and production environments, with increasing level of operational controls, facilitates development and increases the predictability of successful results from changes deployed into production.

Resources

Refer to the following resources to learn more about our best practices for Operational Excellence .

Operational Excellence Pillar
DevOps and AWS
DevOps at Amazon