A reference architecture isn’t the same as a solution architecture, but it can provide a starting point for creating one. In essence, a reference architecture serves as a template or a frame of reference for developing the design of a software solution to meet a need or solve a problem for a particular domain, sector, or field of interest.

It includes a common vocabulary, reusable designs and configurations, and industry best practices. Together, these components help guide the use of proven architectural approaches that will satisfy specific requirements, as well as identify a minimally acceptable set of architectural artifacts.

Reference architectures aren’t meant to be actual solution architectures, and typically wouldn’t be implemented directly. Instead, they’re used as constraints for more concrete architectures. This reduces the need to ─ as the saying goes ─ reinvent the wheel. As such, using a reference architecture can accelerate solution delivery and reduce development costs.

AWS Reference Architectures

Many cloud providers offer reference architectures for application deployment on their cloud infrastructure. AWS is particularly noteworthy in terms of the depth and breadth of its resources, starting with AWS Prescriptive Guidance.

Cloud reference architectures are provided for areas such as analytics and Big Data, compute and high-performance computing (HPC), databases, and machine learning (ML). They provide guidance for a wide array of applications and services.

In addition to reference architecture diagrams, the AWS Architecture Center includes vetted architecture solutions, Well-Architected best practices, patterns, icons, and more. All have been developed by AWS experts, including in-house solution experts, consultants, and partners.

These cloud reference architectures aren’t just generic architectures. They’ve been developed and proven in real-world applications to solve specific challenges and meet various business needs. For example, reference architecture diagrams are included for everything from automating the testing of software applications at scale and at load to identifying bottlenecks before their release to deploying a solution that uses AWS AI services to analyze media files and generate meaningful insights through ML-generated metadata.

The AWS Extras

Among the things that differentiate AWS from many other cloud providers is that AWS doesn’t just provide reference architectures. It also makes it easy to create and customize architecture diagrams with an official collection of AWS product icons and other tools. This also helps accelerate the overall development process.

In addition, AWS reference architectures can be accessed from the AWS Solutions Library where there are additional resources to facilitate solution development. Among them are AWS Solutions Constructs. Available as an open-source extension of the AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK), these vetted architecture patterns can be easily assembled to create a production-ready workload.

There are also AWS Solutions Implementations, designed to help solve common problems and accelerate solution builds using the AWS platform. Every AWS Solutions Implementation includes detailed architecture, a deployment guide, and instructions for automated and manual deployment.

Then there are AWS Solutions Consulting Offers. These are vetted solutions to dozens of common business and technical problems, delivered via consulting engagements with AWS Partners.

Finally, AWS Quick Starts are automated reference deployments created by AWS solutions architects and AWS Partners. These resources are helpful when deploying technologies on AWS according to AWS best practices.

AWS Well-Architected

Where AWS really stands out in terms of reference and overall solution architecture is AWS Well-Architected, an approach to building, evaluating, and implementing solution designs.

It includes the AWS Well-Architected Framework, based on the pillars of operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimization. It also provides AWS Well-Architected Lenses, which extend guidance to specific industry and technology domains, such as serverless and IoT.

Then there’s the AWS Well-Architected Tool, a service in the cloud that provides a consistent process for measuring solution architecture using AWS best practices. Finally, there are AWS Well-Architected Labs, which are hands-on labs for learning, measuring, and building solution architecture using best practices.

Bottom line: AWS goes beyond providing a variety of reference architectures. It provides reference architecture examples, guidance, tools, and resources to create high-performing solutions with reference architectures as the foundation.

The Need for More Than Reference Architectures

AWS offers many other useful resources to help with building solution architectures beyond those already mentioned. But with everything available, including the variety of application reference architectures, is there really a need to work with a third-party company to build a solution? Is there that much more customization required for converting a reference architecture into a specialized application architecture? For most companies, the answer is yes.

No two organizations are alike, nor are their challenges and needs. Reference architectures only establish the basics of how the solution should be built and they set certain parameters. They seldom, if ever, are specific to all the solution functions, capabilities, and other intricacies required to meet an organization’s needs. Nor do they include any guidance for converting a reference architecture into a real-world solution.

While sometimes there are talented in-house solution architects who can take reference architectures to the next level, they often don’t have the time to do so. Some may also lack domain expertise or familiarity with architecture best practices or things like compliance requirements to ensure the solution does what it needs to do.

Then there’s the matter of working with AWS infrastructure and resources. While they’re relatively easy to use, there’s a lot from which to choose. Just knowing which resources are available, much less which ones should be used to meet specific requirements, can be difficult. That’s particularly true for IT professionals that don’t work with AWS on a full-time basis. Staying on top of the latest best practices can also be difficult. Valuable development time can be lost as solution architects attempt to ramp up their knowledge.

Those are just a few of the reasons to consider working with an outside company. That’s particularly true of ones that specialize both in architecting software solutions for specific domains and in working with AWS. Doing so can save time and money. It can also free up in-house developers to focus on other endeavors more relevant to their expertise. It also helps ensure a solution incorporates best practices to deliver what is needed.

Ready to plan your next cloud project?

Work with ClearScale

As an AWS partner, ClearScale is well versed in employing a wide variety of AWS resources in cloud application modernization and development services – including reference architectures and all aspects of AWS Well-Architected. Whether building upon a reference architecture or starting from scratch, ClearScale’s team of solution architects knows how to leverage the most appropriate services and components to create high-performance solutions that take advantage of the AWS cloud infrastructure.

To learn how ClearScale can help accelerate your application development project, including using AWS reference architectures, contact us for a free consultation.

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