What are the Microsoft Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure (CAF) and the Microsoft Azure Well-Architected Framework (WAF)?
Both are best practice guidance around how to transform your organization to be cloud-centric (CAF) and how to build and manage cloud-hosted applications securely, cost-effectively, etc. (WAF).
But why are they important, and why should you, and your organization, use them on your cloud transformation journey?
Based on my experience of 30+ years in IT, including 10 years as CTO of DevOpsGroup (An Amdocs company) and 5yrs as a Microsoft Regional Director, I’ll give you 3 reasons:
- CAF helps you understand that cloud isn’t “just a technology” and that your journey to cloud will require a wide-ranging transformation in how you deliver your IT services
- CAF & WAF enable you to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and avoid expensive missteps and wasting time “reinventing the wheel”
- The best practices can act as a “Checklist” to keep your cloud transformation on track
So, let’s dive deeper into each of these three.
Firstly, let’s look at the assertion that cloud “isn’t just a technology” and that CAF helps your organization prepare for this transformation. In my experience, seeing the cloud as “just another datacenter (DC)” and the cloud migration as “just another DC migration” is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason for failing to achieve your cloud goals. This technology-centric mindset results in cloud adoption being seen as an IT project, and not what it really is – part of a fundamental re-orientation of why and how we deliver IT services, driven by a wider digital transformation across the organization and the economy as a whole.
"Digital transformation and cloud adoption might seem like a technical project. But at their core, both are complex change management efforts involving multiple stakeholders moving in alignment to accomplish business and technical change. When they move in unison, the impact on the business is apparent."
CAF, in the Strategy Pillar, is clear from the beginning that you need to start from the business strategy, not just the technology strategy. What is driving your cloud adoption? Is it to improve business agility? Reduce costs? Accelerate time to market? Enable expansion into new markets? How you answer these questions will impact the type of cloud landing zone you build, how you structure your organization to manage workloads once they are in the cloud, how you manage data governance, security, compliance etc. A great place to start is to use the Cloud Adoption Strategy Evaluator online assessment to review your cloud adoption strategy and identify the strengths and weaknesses of your current approach.
The guidance in CAF helps you understand the business outcomes, financial considerations and technical considerations that need to be part of your strategy. For example, your CFO and the Finance function need to be involved at every step of the way, lest the shift from a capital expense (CAPEX) model to a operating expense (OPEX) model drives a unexpected hole in this year’s P&L. Similarly, HR and your Learning & Development (L&D) function need to be part of the team as you re-define job roles, team structure and build your skills readiness plan. These are of course just two of the teams that need to be involved. CAF helps you widen your perspective and ensure that everyone is included, at every phase of the transformation.
Secondly, what do I mean by “standing on the shoulders of giants”, and why is this important? The phrase “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”, generally attributed to the famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton means that knowledge progresses by building on top of the work done by those who come before us.
Both CAF and WAF are built from the real-world experiences of Microsoft’s own cloud journey and the experiences of its customers. Even better, it’s open source so if you want to update, correct or expand the CAF & WAF content you can do so on GitHub.
Starting on a foundation of the collective wisdom of “those who come before us” reduces risk. The risk of making costly and time-consuming mistakes that you could have avoided by following the CAF/WAF guidance. Too often we see organizations suffering from a “not-invented-here” (NIH) syndrome, and seek to build everything themselves from scratch. In others, we just see ignorance that resources like CAF/WAF exist, let alone the accelerators like the Enterprise Scale landing zones and other cloud environment templates that are available in the Azure Architecture Center.
We believe that taking a “greenfields approach” to cloud is the right one – you need to build your cloud from the ground up with new security policy, new governance, new development and operational practices (like DevOps) etc BUT that doesn't mean you can can’t build on top of the wisdom of those who have gone before you and learn from their mistakes.
It’s also worth looking at other industry sectors that might be, collectively, further along their cloud transformation than your sector. For example, we at DevOpsGroup have worked a lot with Financial Services & Insurance (FSI) customers, many of whom, as early cloud adopters, have made all the mistakes that you can now avoid with the amazing guidance from CAF/WAF. We are now starting to work with Amdocs’s traditional customers base – telecommunications – and accelerating their cloud journey based off the lessons we’ve learnt from the FSI customers and leveraging CAF/WAF. Our colleagues at Sourced Group have even extended the CAF/WAF guidance with their own cloud adoption framework called Cloud@Scale.
This raises an important point – whilst it’s critically important to take advantage of frameworks like CAF & WAF to avoid wasting time reinventing the wheel, it’s also important to adapt them to the context of YOUR organization, market sector, customer needs etc.. Remember – the CAF & WAF guidance is open source, so you can also fork it to create your own version and adapt it to your needs.
That said; one word of caution – you don’t need to create a completely tailored and perfectly adapted CAF/WAF framework before you get started on your cloud transformation journey. Use the standard (reference) version to get started and then learn what needs to be adapted for your context as you go. Fans of the Agile Scrum methodology will recognize this as Empiricism – the Scrum principal of learning by doing via transparency, inspection and adaptation. We see too many organizations get stuck in an “analysis paralysis” in the early stages of their cloud adoption as they seek to make everything perfect before they even start.
This is, I believe, a hangover from capital-intensive, infrastructure-centric, physical datacenter thinking. Back in those days making a mistake in your datacenter rollout, your capacity planning etc. was a major problem and could introduce massive delays and cost overruns. But in a software-defined cloud world a mistake can be corrected with a Git Push and re-running a CI/CD pipeline. Entire environments can be torn down and re-built automatically. For example, for one insurance sector client we built DevOps & Cloud automation that would provision a new developer environment, comprising over 600 resources, from scratch in 12 minutes. What’s more, over the 9 months of the project we ran the pipeline to update & re-build the production environment more than 1,900 times prior to the Go-Live. As you can imagine the customer was extremely confident in the scalability, flexibility and reliability of the environment management approach knowing it had already worked successfully 1,900 times!
Finally, CAF & WAF are very useful as a checklist at each stage of your cloud journey. If you have read Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, you know how important checklists are in making good decisions and ensuring that you’ve covered all the bases. The book makes a very important point (repeatedly!) that checklists are for everybody, even experts. There is a reason that airline pilots have a “Quick Reference Handbook” (QRH) in the cockpit and why they consult it in emergency situations, under high stress – because they know that under stress we forget things and make bad decisions. Following a checklist dramatically improves the chances that we WON’T forget something critical and make the right choices. It’s a great idea to use the guidance in CAF & WAF at each stage in your cloud transformation journey as your own checklist to ensure that you aren’t overlooking some aspect of the transformation, some stakeholder or team you’re overlooking, or some technical requirement you need to consider.
The Microsoft Azure Well-Architected Framework is particularly useful – you can (and should) perform a “Well-Architected Review” (WAR) of every workload as part of the initial Discovery phase as you plan to migrate that workload, and then ideally perform another WAR prior to the final production Go-Live. You can also use our Production Readiness Checklist as well for a production readiness / operational readiness review.
The WAR assessment tool is one of 14 different assessments (aka checklists!) available in the Microsoft Assessment Center for you to use to ensure that your cloud transformation ticks all the boxes and stays on track.
In conclusion, CAF & WAF are important tools in your toolbox to accelerate your cloud transformation, reduce risk, control cost, enhance security and ensure that everyone across the business benefits from the cloud.
About the author:
Steve Thair is a Microsoft Regional Director and co-founded DevOpsGroup 5 years ago after twenty-five years of IT experience working for top government and corporate organisations in Australia and the UK. Steve blogs extensively on DevOps topics and presents regularly at numerous meetups, webinars and conferences around the world.
This article first appeared on the Microsoft Community Hub.