Are you Well Architected?

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Whether your cloud infrastructure runs a multi-million pound industry or a start-up aiming to grow, you should be asking yourself “how good is my cloud set-up?”.

This can be a hard question to answer. You may have multiple accounts with your cloud service provider; you may be running multiple applications that use multiple cloud services in various combinations. You may have policies defining  the access and use of cloud services by your employees and contractors, but do you know if these policies are being applied or monitored?

More generally, the question itself is vague. What does “good” mean anyway? How can you define “good”? These are the sorts of questions that keep managers awake at night.

I specialise in Amazon Web Services (AWS), so will try to answer the question for that specific domain. Other cloud providers have different ways of approaching the problem

AWS is by far the biggest provider of cloud services in the world. They currently offer well over 100 different products and services that you can use for your business, from general compute power and storage capacity, to really specialised services like Blockchain or Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. It is an often bewildering array of options that you can self-serve into any combination you like. And it keeps growing, in depth and breadth.

They recognised that the question of how good a specific combination of these services was could turn quite complex quite quickly. So they came up with the Well Architected Framework.

In essence, this framework tries to answer the question by breaking the problem down into five key areas, or “pillars” in the AWS jargon:

  • Security – How good is your set-up at protecting information, systems and assets?
  • Reliability – How good is your set-up at recovering from infrastructure or service disruptions? Can it grow or shrink to meet demand?
  • Operational Excellence – How good is your set-up at running and monitoring your systems?
  • Performance Efficiency – How good is your set-up at using resources efficiently and at adapting to technological change?
  • Cost Optimisation – How good is your set-up at running in the most cost-effective way?

Interestingly, your “set-up” is not simply your infrastructure and code. It is also, crucially, the processes and procedures that you have in place to implement, monitor and adapt. Your system could be perfect on day one, but things can easily and quickly degrade in any of the above areas if you don’t have the mechanisms in place to stay up to date.

So the Well Architected Framework takes you through a series of questions that, in effect, force you to take a good, hard look at everything that you are doing and identify gaps in your set-up when compared with current architectural best practice.

For example, in the Security section it asks “How do you manage credentials and authentication?” A simple question that leads to many more: Do you enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) on log-in? Do you force people to rotate passwords regularly? Do you have a written identity and access management policy? 

As you answer these questions, the gaps become easily apparent, as do the paths to remediation. Enforce MFA. Enforce password rotation. Write down your policies.

Or when it comes to Reliability, it asks: “How do you monitor your resources?”. Again, a simple question that leads to others (“Are you even monitoring the default metrics?”, Are you sending notifications based on the monitoring?”, “Do you perform automated responses on events?”), which force you to look at that area of your infrastructure. Now, you may decide that even though you are sending notifications, you are not performing any automated responses based on events (so a human has to decide what to do). This may be OK in your case. But the review forces you to understand that and decide what levels of risk you are prepared to take. There are often no binary answers, just trade-offs.

It sounds dry, and it can be, but it is one of the most fascinating and eye-opening pieces of work that I do. For one thing, it allows you a privileged look inside other people’s operations. You have to dig around in detail so you learn a lot, both good and bad, about how people go about building things and making decisions.

And for another, your work can be really helpful. We did one Well Architected Review for a food delivery start-up with ambitions to grow and doubts about the suitability of their existing set-up. We were able, among other things, to find security vulnerabilities (like databases accessible from the open internet) as well as to provide guidance on how to create separation between development and production infrastructure (have two separate AWS accounts under one Organisation) that was more amenable to expansion and easier to control.

But more importantly, perhaps, we were able to offer some peace of mind. Yes, there were some things they needed to think about and change to go into a growth phase, but they didn’t need to rip everything up and start again. That in itself was probably worth the consultancy fee!

When your business, and your AWS footprint, is bigger and more mature, the Well Architected reviews will involve more people and take longer (in one case, with a FinTech company, it would sometimes take days and trails of emails and meetings to answer single questions). But the principle is the same and the outcomes can be just as revealing. Of course, in those cases, there then comes the problem of implementing and communicating change, but that is for another blog post!

It is worth pointing out that AWS offers a free online tool to run through the Well Architected Review. So you don’t necessarily need to hire consultants who will give you lots of voodoo about how it needs to be done and tell you about the required black arts. It is all there in black and white and it is definitely not rocket science!

What we find is that normally in an organisation most people are occupied with their day job and do not have the mind-space to dedicate to a job like this, which needs to be done in a methodical fashion and within a reasonable amount of time. And often the required cloud expertise is distributed among multiple people in the organisation. So getting someone in who has done it before, who can see it through and who understands the questions that need to be asked and the level of answer that is required can end up being a good investment.

So if you are losing sleep over how good your set-up is, get in touch!

Case Study: SAP Migration to AWS


This Financial Services organisation was running all its crucial SAP infrastructure out of one data centre with minimal resilience and long-since-tested disaster recovery (DR) procedures.

They were also in the midst of a Cloud Transformation programme which aimed to migrate all its infrastructure to the AWS Cloud.

They wanted to know how to run a resilient SAP estate, with a tested DR playbook,  in AWS. They also needed to migrate the whole SAP estate to the Cloud without loss of data and no, or minimal, operational downtime, an especially challenging task as the tool was being used daily by business units in multiple time zones.


Exor Technology came on board at the start of the project. We worked with AWS SAP specialists and the business owners to create an architecture for the company’s cloud-based SAP estate. This incorporated both the business’ requirements under their Cloud Adoption Framework, as well as the latest guidance from SAP and AWS on how to create a best-in-class SAP Cloud deployment.

We also provided a solution for data migration using CloudEndure, one of the newest tools in the AWS data migration toolkit. This would ensure secure data copying and minimal downtime during migration.

This was a painstakingly detailed process that took many months. It involved interaction with multiple stakeholders, including the company’s Cloud Transformation programme; the cybersecurity teams; procurement and licensing teams; the system users and various operational teams.

We built and demonstrated the approach in a non-production environment.


Our blueprint was incorporated into the company’s Cloud Transformation programme and work was started to deploy it into a production environment.

Client Testimonial

The SAP programme manager said: “Exor Technology did a great job owning this project, bringing all the stakeholders together and producing an implementable solution. The transformation of any business-critical infrastructure in big organisations is always a difficult and delicate job and Exor Technology were brilliant at keeping the project moving and everyone on board to reach a good outcome“.

Case Study: Growth-stage start-up


The start-up in the video space had started to gain traction and clients. The product they built was good enough to get them started, but the founders worried that their infrastructure was not resilient and that it could be jeopardised by accidental or malicious damage.

What could we do quickly to put their minds at rest?


Exor Technology led a short, sharp project to assess the state of their existing AWS architecture and to document the risks inherent in it and mitigation steps for each risk. We then worked with the client to prioritise and implement risk remediations such as creating regular backups of all of their critical data into a separate AWS account.

We then worked with them to produce a template for a Disaster Recovery Plan, which will be the basis for a fully-fledged resilient and recoverable application and which they have started to implement.


The founders of this start-up sleep better at night because they know that their most critical assets are being regularly backed up to a secure location. They also have a clear path towards a fully resilient and compliant application that will be able to accommodate their predicted growth.

Client Testimonial

The founders said “Thank you for all your help and great work. It’s a weight off our minds.

Case Study: Platform Gurus


Platform Gurus Logo

Platform Gurus build high quality, secure and scalable web and mobile applications on Amazon Web Services (AWS). They needed to be sure they were following AWS best practices in the areas of security, scaleability, reliability and efficiency.


Exor Technology performed a hands-on deep dive workshop looking into the architecture of Platform Gurus’ solution, analysing their use of AWS services using the AWS Well Architected Framework as a template for the discovery. This focussed the work on the five pillars of good system architecture : security, reliability, operational excellence, performance and cost optimisation.

During the workshop observations were documented or acted upon interactively with Platform Gurus staff to ensure a thorough transfer of knowledge and experience to Platform Gurus.


Platform Gurus is now working with many clients to develop exciting web and mobile applications, confident in the knowledge that their platform is secure, scaleable, reliable and operationally efficient.

Client Endorsement

Stuart Prestedge (CoFounder of Platform Gurus) said: 

“[Exor Technology’s] knowledge of AWS services, especially all the security and architectural best-practices, seemed limitless. They delivered far more value than I would ever have expected. In addition, they were friendly and professional – I would highly recommend using them for anything AWS related.”

Case Study: 3D Object Creation

Sealing Wax Box from the Stephens House Collection


Stephens House and Gardens is a Victorian house and gardens in north London with a small museum dedicated to the work of its former owner, the industrialist Henry “Inky” Stephens.

The house has prided itself on being a focal point for the local community and engages with local schools in educational activities, but with Covid-19 keeping it closed was there any way for the museum to continue to engage with the local community?


Exor Technology proposed that high fidelity digital 3D reproductions of some of the objects in the collection could be made available online.

After our proposal was accepted we worked with them to choose the objects to digitise; photographed the objects and put them through our 3D object generation pipeline: and delivered the finished digital artefacts.

We also engaged with 3D hosting service Sketchfab to enrol Stephens House in Sketchfab’s Museums and Heritage programme (a free hosting service for cultural heritage organisations).


The Stephens House museum may be physically closed, but it has been able to remain “open” online and continue to offer a service to the local community.  You can see the 3D objects here.

Furthermore, we agreed with the House management that it should apply a generous Creative Commons licence to these objects and as a result they are available for anyone in the world to download and use in their own 3D projects. 

Client Endorsement

Malcolm Godfrey, manager of Stephens House & Gardens: “The objects Exor Technology have digitised look amazing. With the museum closed for the foreseeable future, this has given us an opportunity to give everyone a glimpse of the collection, and to stay in touch with our local community in these difficult times”.

Case Study: MelodyVR

Photo by Daniel Robert on Unsplash


MelodyVR was an early-stage startup with ambitions to live-stream music gigs in Virtual Reality. They had funding, they had content. But they needed to deliver this content to consumers.


MelodyVR needed to be able to quickly iterate their concepts for video streaming and VR applications. This required flexible and dynamic back-end APIs and content management.

Beginning in 2015, Exor Technology set up, tested and optimised various video streaming platforms including AWS CloudFront, working with third parties to perfect the delivery of MelodyVR’s 360° high-definition content worldwide, whilst also working with MelodyVR’s specialist app developers internally.

We also designed and managed various iterations of MelodyVR’s back-end APIs and content management systems, culminating with building the team which deployed the back-end used at MelodyVR’s launch in 2018.

As members of the AWS Partner Network, we were able to call on the help of AWS technical teams and dig deep into the capabilities of their products, even using features that were so new that they were not even documented at the time.


MelodyVR is now an AIM-listed company which is successfully broadcasting live and recorded performances in 360° to smartphones and VR devices. These are accessible simultaneously to thousands of users worldwide.

Exor Technology’s consultancy was critical to the development of MelodyVR’s streaming delivery and application platform. 

Client Endorsement

Ben Dawson (VR Director at MelodyVR) said: 

Exor Technology worked with us to investigate and develop our service, and helped us build our now global presence bringing VR music experiences to music lovers worldwide. Being able to tap into Exor Technology’s Cloud expertise allowed us to build our service quickly and iteratively. 

Exor Technology provided excellent and valuable assistance through all iterations of the platform development, APIs & cloud technology architecture, and hiring our permanent team now in place.

Lockdown 3D object creation

As the UK entered Coronavirus lockdown, Tim and I began working on our idea for a cloud pipeline to generate 3D digital objects.

3D objects are becoming increasingly common and valuable. They are the building blocks of all Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality experiences and more and more organisations are trying to use them in different ways. Films and games are the obvious examples, but they’re also being used in medicine, architecture and various industrial processes. 

And of course, 3D printing is also becoming more and more popular, and this relies on accurate 3D models as well.

There are many ways of generating a 3D object, but the one we focused on is called photogrammetry . Basically you take a lot of pictures of an object from different angles, you process them with some software and this generates a 3D object for you.  It is an amazing feat of complex maths and number-crunching; perfect for the cloud-compute power of AWS!

When the Covid shutters came down we had to improvise. So I set up a (very basic) studio in my house to continue capturing images. 

A lockdown photography studio

The other thing I did was have a socially distant chat with the people who run a local estate near where I live. Stephens House and Gardens used to belong to Victorian businessman Henry “Inky” Stephens, the creator of Stephens Ink. He left it to the people of Finchley when he died and there is a small museum on the site dedicated to him and his business. Both the gardens and the museum had to close because of Covid-19.

So we worked together to use some of the museum’s artifacts to generate some 3D digital objects. It gave us an opportunity to try out and validate our pipeline, and the House a chance to offer the local residents an additional service with a glimpse of the museum’s collection in 3D online.

In went pictures like these …

… and out came a 3D object like this…

You can see the full set on their website.

Malcolm Godfrey, manager of Stephens House & Gardens, said: “The objects Exor Technology have digitsed look amazing. With the museum closed for the foreseeable future, this has given us an opportunity to give everyone a glimpse of the collection, and to stay in touch with our local community in these difficult times”.

Our pipeline leverages the ability of AWS to scale out compute power using EC2 instances and container services, as well as store and transfer large quantities of data via S3. Other services like SQS queues and SNS messaging can then be harnessed to schedule jobs and let people know how things are progressing and when processes have finished.

Building a product like this is always an iterative process. But working on this real use case helped us validate not only that the technology works but, more importantly, that by abstracting some of the software and hardware complexity involved in the use of photogrammetry we can open access to 3D object generation to new markets. Stephens House would never have been able to consider doing something like this in the past. Now they are thinking about getting funding to digitise more of their collection!

If you think something like this can help your business, get in touch.

Our Report on VR/AR in the arts

Tim and I have spent part of this year working on a report on the state of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in the UK arts sector.

We got into this area slightly by accident (see our other posts!) but have stayed in it because we fell in love with it and think it is full of opportunities to do exciting and innovative work.

And the report certainly backs that view: there is a lot of experimentation going on; there is a growing ecosystem growing around this; and the signs are good for wider adoption.

For the report, we worked with users and other stakeholders in Art UK, a cultural education charity, which is currently undertaking a project to digitise the nation’s sculpture collection. All the views expressed in the report, however, are our own.

In the report we argue that the growth and market penetration of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) has the potential to transform the experience of art in the coming decade.

Cultural organisations are already starting to embrace the potential of this new technology.

The Network Effect

VR/AR in art is facing a classic “network effect” problem, where there isn’t enough content and awareness out there to get people interested, while at the same time content owners are waiting for interest and awareness to jump in and make more content and experiences available.

But there is already a lot of experimentation going on and an ecosystem being created around digital artifacts, content creators and technical and curatorial standards. This will accelerate and facilitate the creation of more content and experiences.

Based on our research, consumers are currently not very aware of VR/AR as a way of experiencing art, however those who are aware and have used it are very positive about it.

Cost and access to the technology remain the biggest barriers to wider adoption, but as with other adoption curves, VR/AR is poised to stop being a domain of the rich and the geeky and enter a bigger market. It is an exciting and crucial moment for VR/AR and the arts!

You can read the full report here.

And do get in touch if you have any questions or feedback.

MelodyVR – The power of the live gig

MelodyVR have developed a new way to experience music by providing streamed 360° VR experiences of recorded and live performances. The service was launched in May 2018.

Capturing live music performances in 360° from multiple camera positions generates huge quantities of data that needs storing securely, processing and transcoding into formats that are suitable for streaming in real time to VR headsets via content delivery networks.

Since MelodyVR’s inception in 2015, we helped develop and perfect the streaming of their 360° content using a multi-CDN approach on AWS CloudFront and Limelight, with origin content sourced from AWS S3.

Ben Dawson (VR Director at MelodyVR) said:

Exor Technology worked with us to investigate and develop our service, and helped us build our now global presence bringing VR music experiences to music lovers worldwide. Being able to tap into Exor Technology’s Cloud expertise allowed us to build our service quickly and iteratively.

MelodyVR’s virtual reality app uses a backend API which was specified and built by a team run by Exor Technology, using a serverless framework on AWS’s API Gateway and Lambda services.

A particular challenge when streaming high-bandwidth VR content is the automatic selection of the best possible content delivery method for each user. Exor Technology perfected a technique to find the minimum latency source of content for each user in real-time and to pre-load chunks of video so that each user receives the highest quality experience of MelodyVR’s impressive content.

Photo by Daniel Robert on Unsplash

As members of the AWS Partner Network, we were able to call on the help of AWS technical teams and dig deep into the capabilities of their products, even using features that were so new that they were not even documented at the time!

Ben adds:

Exor Technology provided excellent and valuable assistance through all iterations of the platform development, APIs & cloud technology architecture, and hiring our permanent team now in place.

Marina Abramović at the Serpentine Gallery, London

Tin Drum is a start-up on a mission to create immersive artistic experiences in Mixed Reality (MR).

In February 2019, they showcased “The Life”, the first large scale public Mixed Reality (MR) exhibition in history, at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was created with the legendary artist Marina Abramović as a representation of her performance work. As Tin Drum pointed out from the outset,

“No one had ever presented a piece in MR as anything other than tech demo, and there was no template from which to draw. We had to make it all up from scratch”.

The rendering and other processes involved in creating good MR content are computationally expensive and time consuming. It also takes time to find the best lighting schemes and fix imperfections on the captured content, so fast iteration is essential to arrive at a version of the exhibit  that everyone is happy with.

Exor Technology came on board to assist with accelerating the turnaround time of concept iterations by using the power of the AWS Cloud. When we arrived, it was taking the team anything between a day and three days to produce an iteration of their current project.

Marcus Fielding, COO of Tin Drum, says:

We wanted to be able to concentrate on the artistic and creative aspects of our projects. We knew the Cloud should be able to help with the compute-intensive processing needed to generate our MR content, and we hoped that it could also speed that process up so that we could experiment creatively at a greater rate. We needed Exor Technology’s help to get us started on AWS

First, we benchmarked a number of different types of AWS instances on a small sample of content. Interestingly, a bigger machine does not always give you a faster render. There is a sweet spot within various families of AWS EC2 instances, so it is worth trying a few before making a decision.

After that, it was a case of spinning up an instance that had all the software we required to process the frames (in this case it was Blender and some compression tools) and making an image of it, so we could create multiple copies when the time came.

Since EC2 instances are charged by the hour, the most efficient thing to do is estimate how many frames your chosen machine can process in an hour, and then divide the total number of frames by that to give you the number of EC2 instances you will need in your “render farm”.

The original content and the output needs to be put somewhere, so we created an Elastic File Store (EFS) file system that could be mounted by all the EC2 instances as they came to life.

We then wrote and ran a script that divided the rendering job into chunks that could be done in an hour, and for each of those chunks spun up an EC2 instance with instructions to process a given batch.

Then we went to make a cup of tea.

An hour later, it was all done!

So the team went from being able to produce, at best, an iteration a day to an iteration an hour! Total cost per iteration: US$28 (plus EFS storage cost).

It was a win for everyone. At Exor Technology we learnt valuable lessons on how to manage and manipulate MR content. For Tin Drum, Fielding says:  

Exor Tech made sure they understood our MR content pipeline and then developed and benchmarked various options for parallel processing our content on AWS, all the time working with our internal teams to share their knowledge and develop a suitable cloud solution. We were delighted with the outcome which reduced our content turnaround from days to hours.”

And, of course, the lucky ones who got to see it loved it!