Virtually any organization active in the public cloud needs at least one cloud architect to be able to see the big picture and to assist designing solutions.
So, what makes a cloud architect a good cloud architect?
In a word – be multidisciplinary.
While the position requires good technical skills, a good cloud architect must have good customer facing skills. A cloud architect needs to understand the business needs, from the end-users (usually connecting from the Internet) to the technological teams. That means being able to speak many “languages,” and translate from one to the another while navigating the delicate nuances of each. All in the same conversation.
At the end of the day, the technology is just a means to serve your customers.
Sometimes a customer may ask for something non-technical at all (“Draw me a sheep…”) and sometimes it could be very technical (“I want to expose an API to allow read and update backend database”).
A good cloud architect knows how to take make a drawing of a sheep into a full-blown architecture diagram, complete with components, protocols, and more. In other worlds, translating a business or customer requirement into a technical requirement.
Here are a few of the technical skills good cloud architects should have under their belts.
Operating systems – Know how to deploy and troubleshoot problems related to virtual machines, based on both Windows and Linux.
Cloud services – Be familiar with at least one public cloud provider’s services (such as AWS, Azure, GCP, Oracle Cloud, etc.). Even better to be familiar with at least two public cloud vendors since the world is heading toward multi-cloud environments.
Networking – Be familiar with network-related concepts such as OSI model, TCP/IP, IP and subnetting, ACLs, HTTP, routing, DNS, etc.
Storage – Be familiar with storage-related concepts such as object storage, block storage, file storage, snapshots, SMB, NFS, etc.
Database – Be familiar with database-related concepts such as relational database, NoSQL database, etc.
A good cloud architect can read an architecture diagram and knows which questions to ask and which security controls to embed inside a given solution.
Identity management – Be familiar with concepts such as directory services, Identity and access management (IAM), Active Directory, Kerberos, SAML, OAuth, federation, authentication, authorization, etc.
Auditing – Be familiar with concepts such as audit trail, access logs, configuration changes, etc.
Cryptography – Be familiar with concepts such as TLS, public key authentication, encryption at transit & at rest, tokenization, hashing algorithms, etc.
Application Security – Be familiar with concepts such as input validation, OWASP Top10, SDLC, SQL Injection, etc.
Laws, Regulation and Standards
In our dynamic world a good cloud architect needs to have at least a basic understanding of the following topics:
Laws and Regulation – Be familiar with privacy regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, etc., and how they affect your organization’s cloud environments and products
Standards – Be familiar with standards such as ISO 27001 (Information Security Management), ISO 27017 (Cloud Security), ISO 27018 (Protection of PII in public clouds), ISO 27701 (Privacy), SOC 2, CSA Security Trust Assurance and Risk (STAR), etc.
Contractual agreements – Be able to read contracts between customers and public cloud providers, and know which topics need to appear in a typical contract (SLA, business continuity, etc.)
Good cloud architects, like a good DevOps guys or gals, are not afraid to get their hands dirty and be able read and write code, mostly for automation purposes.
The required skills vary from scenario to scenario, but in most cases include:
CLI – Be able to run command line tools, in-order to query existing environment settings up to updating or deploying new components.
Scripting – Be familiar with at least one scripting language, such as PowerShell, Bash scripts, Python, Java Script, etc.
Infrastructure as a Code – Be familiar with at least one declarative language, such as HashiCorp Terraform, AWS CloudFormation, Azure Resource Manager, Google Cloud Deployment Manager, RedHat Ansible, etc.
Programming languages – Be familiar with at least one programming language, such as Java, Microsoft .NET, Ruby, etc.
A good cloud architect needs to be able to “sell” a solution to various audiences. Again the required skills vary from scenario to scenario, but in most cases include:
Pricing calculators – Be familiar with various cloud service pricing models and be able to estimate cloud service costs using tools such as AWS Simple Monthly Calculator, Azure Pricing Calculator, Google Cloud Platform Pricing Calculator, Oracle Cloud Cost Estimator, etc.
Cloud vs. On-Premise – Be able to have weigh in on the pros and cons of cloud vs. on premise, with different audiences.
Architecture alternatives – Be able to present different architecture alternatives (from VM to micro-services up to Serverless) for each scenario. It is always good idea to have backup plan.
Recruiting a good cloud architect is indeed challenging. The role requires multidisciplinary skills – from soft skills (been a customer-oriented and salesperson) to deep technical skills (technology, cloud services, information security, etc.)
There is no alternative to years of hands-on experience. The more areas of experience cloud architects have, the better they will succeed at the job.