What Are AWS Application Patterns?

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The cloud-native approach is not just about compute power and cloud services. A “set it and forget it” attitude won’t work with cloud native; there are far too many moving pieces and there is just way too much complexity. Instead, this approach requires constant testing, optimization and improvement. This is epitomized in the two key phrases of the DevOps methodology: continuous integration and continuous delivery.

Operational Excellence

The best starting point for application patterns is a commitment to operational excellence. Typically, the term “Ops” is used to identify the IT team, but in this case, operational excellence rests on the shoulders of Dev, QA and Ops teams. In cross-functional DevOps teams, every member should strive for operational excellence at every step–even in the smallest of tasks.

In their white paper on operational excellence, AWS encourages its users to manage operations as code. This helps avoid human error, enables automation of complex processes and allows for quick and easy rollback when errors occur. Failure, according to AWS, is an opportunity for learning. They even advise performing “pre-mortems” that try to anticipate potential points of failure before a deployment.

AWS Trusted Advisor is a useful tool that enables this type of accountability and shared responsibility within a team. It checks and reviews your new and existing AWS workloads looking for opportunities to save costs, improve performance, tighten security or follow best practices for scaling operations.

Security

Security is a pattern that is non-negotiable. The term “DevOps” has inspired another variation called DevSecOps that signifies this fact. Security operations take center stage when talking about DevOps.

The interesting thing about DevSecOps is it actually results in more freedom, flexibility and trust across teams when done right. This is unlike traditional approaches to security which created silos, stifled creativity and slowed down innovation. Security is now a key piece of the puzzle, not an afterthought. AWS has many machine learning-based security solutions such as Macie which automatically identifies and secures personally identifiable information (PII).

Along with this, configuring role-based access controls using AWS IAM is essential to have greater control over who or which applications access data and for how long. Access Control Lists govern access to data stored in AWS S3 buckets.

The news is full of instances of data breaches due to weak security policies and access controls. Capital One is a recent example of a data breach that affected 100 million of its users. While security in the cloud is more complex than before, AWS has the necessary tools and systems in place. It’s up to organizations to implement a security strategy that prevents misuse of their data.

Reliability

Today, there is a low tolerance for downtime because of the potential loss of revenue. With the stakes so high, reliability is a pattern any application custodian would have high on their list of priorities. AWS has multiple reporting and health monitoring tools to keep you constantly on the pulse of your applications.

Architectural patterns like microservices enable better resilience by decomposing monolithic applications into more manageable chunks called services. This “divide and conquer” approach leads to higher availability, which is critical for SaaS applications.

Patterns like chaos engineering seek to intentionally kill random instances and services and force the DevOps team to figure out workarounds and backups for every scenario.

Application Performance

With the explosion of data, applications are always dealing with lots of data to transfer, store and process. An application’s performance depends on three factors: the backend data storage layer, the middleware components and the frontend.

The backend data layer is the most critical component when it comes to performance. Choosing the right storage formats, database types, storage devices and organization patterns all contribute to the speed of data access. AWS has an amazing array of storage services, including S3, RedShift, Aurora and Glacier. AWS gives its users every type of storage solution, all of which should be considered to improve data management.

AWS is devising new ways to query large datasets without bearing the load on your existing systems. RedShift Spectrum is one example of this. It is a great way to “minimize the need to scale Redshift with a new node, which can be expensive.” If you’d still rather not have to manage any RedShift clusters on your own AWS Athena is a great serverless alternative

That gives you all the power you need to query large datasets in S3 without having to maintain any clusters of your own.

This pay-per-use model is making its ways across the entire AWS stack with services such as ECS and Fargate offering completely serverless experiences when operating containers at scale. What started out with AWS Lambda is catching on fast, and many AWS services like the ones mentioned above enable serverless experiences with a focus on application performance.

Cost Optimization

When moving to the cloud, pricing is completely different. Rather than paying for perpetual licenses, you now pay a small fee for every small resource that you use. Though small on its own, you’ll soon realize that cloud costs can shoot up easily if you’re not paying close attention to your spending.

Cost optimization is necessary as you scale operations in the cloud. Cost optimization includes looking for more efficient services, whether that’s within the same vendor platform or a different platform. At a minimum it may require a lift-and-shift approach to transition from expensive old infrastructure to inexpensive new alternatives. For example, shifting workloads from VMs to containers to serverless within the same platform can show great cost savings, since containers and serverless are generally more cost-effective than VMs.

It pays to leverage the expertise of experts in this area. They should ideally be people who have spent years using AWS, understand Well-Architected best practices and have found ways to cut costs and derive more value from the same budget.

Application Patterns Enable Extensibility

Microservice applications adopt a pluggable architecture. This enables them to be easily integrated with external applications. Typically, API-based communication patterns are most common. AWS API Gateway is a service that manages API design for AWS applications. In some cases, an SDK is the better choice–for example, when you need more control over the developer experience and integrations. It’s important to know when to choose either option.

Application Patterns Enable Portability

Portability is the ability to move workloads across instances without interrupting their functioning. As instances change, the workloads which they support shouldn’t be affected. This is only possible if there is a clear separation layer between the workloads and the infrastructure that runs them.

Application Patterns Enable Shift-Left

The DevOps methodology is known to encourage a shift-left approach to software delivery. This means that not only Dev, but also QA and Ops contribute to the design and development stage of an application. This fosters deeper collaboration across teams and breaks down silos.

A shift-right approach holds true as well. Shift-right means developers are responsible for the code they write. They are equal owners with operations teams for the resilience of the apps they build and also the bugs they introduce into the system. This practice of putting ownership and responsibility where it belongs is very healthy for a DevOps team.

AWS facilitates pipeline management using tools such as CodePipeline, CodeCommit and CodeDeploy. They each perform similar but complementary roles and help build a CI/CD pipeline. They make it easy to get started with CI/CD within the AWS platform.

For organizations further down the line in their cloud journey, AWS’ pipeline management tools may seem too simplistic for something like GitOps. Instead, they’d want to look outside AWS for tools such as Jenkins X or Weave Flux which are designed with GitOps automation in mind. Whether it’s the simple or advanced route, a pipeline brings great benefits over a manual development process.

Conclusion

Though tools enable the implementation of helpful application patterns, on their own, they are ineffective. Application patterns need a deliberate strategy and an approach for a start. Only after a strategy is in place, can you move to deciding which tools to use. With a strong strategy in place, any of the tools mentioned here can be swapped out for other better tools and the results will be the same. It’s important to not be distracted by the next shiny tool but keep a keen focus on the strategy for implementing AWS application patterns.

As we’ve seen here, application patterns are diverse, but they all build upon each other. Without even one of these pillars, organizations would not be able to realize the goal of cloud-native applications. On the other hand, if they give careful thought to each of these application patterns, organizations would deliver cutting-edge applications that can only get better with the passing of time.


Twain began his career at Google, where, among other things, he was involved in technical support for the AdWords team.Today, as a technology journalist he helps IT magazines, and startups change the way teams build and ship applications.


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