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InfoQ Homepage News The Frugal Architect: AWS Promotes Cost Awareness for Sustainability

The Frugal Architect: AWS Promotes Cost Awareness for Sustainability

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Dr. Werner Vogels, the CTO at AWS, dedicated the first part of his re:Invent keynote to discussing the laws of frugal architectures, cloud-native architectures that aim to deliver cost-aware, sustainable, and maintainable solutions. Vogels laid out seven simple laws based on his and AWS’ experience building and evolving cloud platform services, with cost implications as one of the primary drivers.

The CTO delivered the closing keynote at the conference, which was used to announce many new capabilities and features. Using Matrix-inspired video clips, Vogels used humor to introduce the topic of cost-awareness of cloud architectures as a proxy for sustainability. More specifically, he described seven laws, which are explained in more detail on the dedicated website.

The Frugal Architect Handbook (Source: The Frugal Architect Website)

Vogels argues that cost should be included as one of the non-functional requirements, and companies or products can fail if they don’t consider cost at the early stage. He also believes costs should be aligned with the business model, which requires identifying the key dimension for generating revenues and profits. Furthermore, the AWS’ CTO points out that architecting is a series of trade-offs, and companies need to find the right balance between technical and business needs and look to maximize value rather than overly focus on minimizing costs.

The fourth law states that unobserved systems lead to unknown costs, and it’s crucial to monitor the costs from the outset as it will encourage more cost-effective and sustainable solutions. To help manage the costs, Vogels proposes to tier system components by criticality and tune the cost required to deliver availability and resiliency according to how business-critical these tiers are. Law no. 6 declares that cost optimization is incremental, and organizations should continually strive to reduce the costs of operating systems by optimizing infrastructure footprint, profiling and optimizing applications, and monitoring systems to find waste and trim inefficiencies. Lastly, Vogels challenges all to question assumptions to avoid the trap of using the same approach or technology choices because of past experiences or the existing status quo.

The keynote has unexpectedly generated many comments within the community. On the Reddit thread, the user syphoon wrote:

While I've got a bias toward things that confirm my preexisting opinions, I do appreciate this as an appeal-to-authority pushback against the "build with as many AWS icons in our [...] diagrams as possible and then 3 years later panic about spend" strategy that was in play at my last two workplaces.

Tracy Woo, principal analyst at Forrester, summarized the frugal architect topic as a silent nod to the FinOps community, considering that AWS has joined the FinOps Foundation and, more recently, also joined the FOCUS project as part of the steering committee. The project aims to create the technical specification of an open standard for cloud cost, usage, and billing data across all major cloud service providers.

Among the comments to Woo’s analysis, Arwel Owen shared his take on the frugal architect initiative:

[...] Werner's Frugal Architect laws focus on architecting for cost as a catalyst to drive sustainability. Whilst this is a noble cause, I believe it should be the other way around - architect for sustainability as a catalyst for cost savings.

I say this because not all cost savings result in lower carbon emissions, e.g. opting for a 3yr Reserved Instance over a 1yr deal may reduce cost, but does nothing to cut carbon. Yet, almost all cloud architecture decisions that reduce carbon emissions also cut costs, e.g. Shutdown services overnight and at weekends will reduce both CO2 emissions and cost, when coupled with PAYG pricing.

Switch the word 'cost' with 'carbon' when you read the Frugal Architect laws, and you won't go far wrong.

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