An external assessment of your infrastructure can pay dividends
You may have built a robust cloud architecture relatively recently, but with the major providers releasing thousands of updates and new features every year, it’s hard to stay up to date. And if you want to leverage your workloads to full effect and ensure your infrastructure is primed for the future, you probably need to make some changes now.
But how do you know which ones? And how do you know you’re getting the most from your investments and keeping your data secure? That’s where an expert cloud infrastructure review comes into play.
Pillars of cloud infrastructure quality
With so many Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud service providers now offering to manage and maintain core cloud hardware, software, servers and storage on behalf of businesses, key areas of focus have emerged as essential for a solid cloud infrastructure. These are encapsulated by the Amazon Web Services Well-Architected Framework, a model that highlights six pillars of software quality organizations should pursue with their cloud environments:
- Operational excellence: The ability to run workloads to deliver optimal business value
- Security: The use of cloud technologies to protect data, systems and assets
- Reliability: The ability of a workload to perform its intended function correctly and consistently as expected
- Performance efficiency: The ability to use computing resources efficiently on a consistent basis
- Cost efficiency: The ability to deliver business value through the cloud without wasted expenditure
- Sustainability: Minimizing the environmental impact of running cloud workloads
The Google Cloud Architecture Framework includes the pillars of operational excellence; security, privacy and compliance; reliability; cost optimization and performance optimization. These rest on a foundational sixth pillar – system design, which defines the architecture, components, modules, interfaces and data necessary to meet cloud system requirements.
Both frameworks give organizations guidelines for a consistent approach to evaluating their cloud systems and making required changes. However, achieving the standards required is not something companies can easily achieve on their own.
What an expert cloud infrastructure review includes
Enlisting the services of an expert will make it easier to ensure a high-performing, secure, dependable and efficient infrastructure in your cloud environment. They will help provide a unified approach for your team to follow when building and maintaining a secure, reliable, cost-efficient and performant infrastructure, and identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in your applications.
DoiT’s expert cloud infrastructure review focuses on ensuring scalable and resilient architecture that enhances cost efficiencies and the user experience, while monitoring technical needs during development and operation. The process can be extensive, depending on the circumstances. An entire review could cover hundreds of questions relating to the specific company’s business objectives and how they align with their cloud setup to achieve success with the cloud. However, we normally focus on a specific area of interest or problem when an architecture review is requested.
For a full review, we start by focusing on the customer, their business objectives and the strength of their team. We then look at their system design, including aspects such as geographic zones and regions, resource management, IAM, compute, networking, storage, databases, analytics, security, observability and scaling, as well as considering compliance and regulatory elements that can affect the solution’s design.
Based on our analysis – whether comprehensive or focused – we make recommendations for changes to the system design to achieve the company’s key business objectives.
When a customer seeks the help of an external consultant to review their cloud architecture, the most important first step is to identify what the company hopes to achieve with the cloud as well as the value they can expect to generate. Business goals constantly change, so it’s important to make expert cloud architecture reviews an ongoing and flexible process. Still, level-setting around current business goals and objectives will keep even small changes focused and actionable.
Every business is at a different stage of cloud development: Some may be heavily invested in legacy applications, and their key focus is on rehosting or “lift and shift” to reduce data center usage and reliance on hardware. Others may have advanced to a largely cloud-native approach. Considerations around consolidation, reliability, performance, burstability and compliance may introduce other cloud priorities.
Once the customer’s ambitions for the cloud have been identified, it is important to assess the size and experience of the team in relation to:
- Product support
- The cloud
This will determine whether the business has the in-house expertise and experience to meet their cloud goals themselves or whether they will need additional support in the form of staff augmentation, training, workshops or consultancy.
Then it’s time to look at infrastructure. It is important to assess how the client operates currently and what resources it has to meet its cloud scaling ambitions. The review will include aspects such as the provision of hosting, managed services and identity. Does the client operate with on-premises data centers exclusively, or do they use a hybrid of private and public cloud providers? They may rely on the services of multiple cloud providers. They may already be at an advanced level of cloud usage, leveraging Kubernetes for machine learning, for example.
The review will also cover aspects like how the business manages its infrastructure and configuration, their primary app operating system and primary app language. Most importantly, the review will consider the budget for compute, networking, storage, licensing and services to determine what can be achieved with the resources available.
The customer profile gives the reviewer a good sense of where to begin with assessing the customer’s cloud system design. This process starts with questions about the geographical regions where the customer’s users are based and any compliance or proximity/latency requirements that entails.
Security is job zero in the cloud and is pivotal to effective cloud system design. Retrofitting security after the fact is a far more intensive process that will cause disruption to your customers or internal stakeholders. The review will examine issues including access permissions, network security, encryption, storing sensitive data, managing secrets for containers and a host of other considerations that are vital to the secure operation of the cloud.
Other key questions focus on the company’s compute, networking, storage and database requirements. How is the organization planning to use computing resources? How complex is their application service connectivity deployment? How much and what types of storage do they require? What databases are they running?
Additional considerations revolve around resource management, identity access management (IAM) observability and scaling.
Based on the answers to the many questions asked in the previous stage, the customer will receive a set of recommendations designed to help them achieve their business objectives by revisiting and adapting their cloud infrastructure. The system design analysis identifies gaps in the existing cloud architecture, allowing the business to prioritize solutions based on security concerns, cost optimization, organizational risk and scalability to meet future cloud needs.
A customer might be advised to select the region nearest their end users to minimize latency and to use a load balancer to provide a single IP that is routed to their application when serving a global user base. They may be advised to secure access to resources through least privilege, if they are not already doing so. For those hosting public content, a content delivery network (CDN) might be recommended to minimize egress cost.
There is no generic set of recommendations that will suit all organizations. The advisable course of action will depend entirely on the customer profile and existing system design – all with the customer’s business objectives top of mind.
How an expert cloud infrastructure review delivers
To demonstrate how a cloud infrastructure review can really pay dividends, it is useful to look at a real-world use case. The company in question produces a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) quality control solution that analyzes the video from assembly-line cameras in real time and sends alerts immediately when anomalies are identified. The company believed that using Google Anthos might help them resolve a lag issue, and they brought in DoiT to conduct an architectural review and determine whether Anthos was the best solution.
They were convinced that moving their workloads to the edge with Anthos would shift their processing closer to the customer and thus resolve the lag issue. However, a DoiT cloud infrastructure review quickly revealed that the root of the problem was caused by the application rather than the network. Following DoiT’s recommendation, they agreed to hold off on implementing Anthos and instead explore two courses of action relating to the possible reinstatement of timestamps in videos and the separation of the alerting process from the re-encoding of videos.
DoiT also recommended the company leverage Google Cloud Storage object lifecycle management to automatically shift storage objects either by age or access-frequency to lower price tiers, and we secured additional wins by proposing the use of generative adversarial networks (GANs) to further reduce the amount of data that had to be stored when archiving videos.
Enabling ongoing success
Even with substantial in-house expertise, companies can miss significant opportunities for optimizing their cloud infrastructure – whether that be in the areas of operational excellence, security, reliability, performance or cost efficiency. An expert cloud infrastructure review can surface practical options you would never have considered otherwise.
As well as providing the catalyst your business needs to commit to ongoing, meaningful transformation, the expertise and guidance of the right cloud partner can help ensure the cloud delivers on its promise for your business.