3 Tips to Prepare for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect

Stephane Maarek

Udemy instructor on AWS

April 11, 2019

The latest Amazon Web Services (AWS) Solutions Architect exam reflects new trends in the cloud space. Cloud infrastructure continues to expand with 2018 growth rates much higher than the previous year, according to Synergy Research. AWS dominates the global cloud-infrastructure services industry, with a market share of 34%, equal to that of the next four public cloud providers combined. Because of AWS’ dominance, IT teams will need to stay up to speed with the latest AWS certifications.

Trends in the cloud industry like serverless and DevOps are changing the way IT pros manage their IT architecture in the cloud. The latest AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam reflects these new IT trends.

What is the AWS Solutions Architect Exam?

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect certification exam is broader than the other AWS certifications. But it’s the most popular and applicable to every IT pro as an introductory certification. The Certified Solutions Architect focuses on how to lay out the bricks to build the architecture, e.g. which bricks should you use and why. The AWS Certified Developer is the next step that centers on how to implement this architecture. Finally, Certified SysOps is more about how to monitor and manage at scale your IT architecture. These three roles also work in synergy. If you are an IT manager who oversees a team, the first Certified Solutions Architect is the right one for you as it’s more high-level and less hands-on. In contrast, the Certified Developer and Certified SysOp is more hands-on and are appropriate for Solution Architects, IT managers, IT Developers, and DevOps roles. AWS certification courses are the 4th fastest-growing tech skill employees are learning in the workplace on Udemy for Business.

What’s new on the AWS Solutions Architect Exam

Here are the new skills to master in the latest AWS Solutions Architect exam that I address in my Udemy course The Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate 2019. While the exam has been out for about a year, in my opinion, it’s much harder than previous exams and I recommend you and your IT team dedicate some time to prep for it.

1. The 5 pillars of good architecture in AWS

There are 5 pillars of a well-architected IT framework–Security, Operational Excellence, Performance, Reliability, and Cost Optimization. The latest AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam dives deep into specialized solutions for each of these 5 pillars. Two years ago, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam wasn’t as hard, in part, because it didn’t go as in-depth in these specific solutions. This latest exam focuses on ensuring IT applications follow best practices and the state-of-the-art architecture in each of these 5 pillars. This philosophy guides the content and structure of the exam. My course is unique because it focuses on this state of the art solutions architecture and ensures IT pros understand best practices as well as the pros and cons of implementing these different solutions. For example, I provide an in-depth comparison of all the database technologies available on the cloud using the 5 pillars. My course helps IT pros think through questions like: Are you using the right component? Is it secure? Is it scalable and will it work 2 years from now?

2. Serverless solutions architecture

In the cloud industry, everyone is moving toward serverless. The AWS push to serverless is reflected in their new exam content which focuses on leveraging AWS serverless offerings. Serverless computing allows developers to use code snippets to run applications that help reduce the time-consuming and complex IT task of managing software stacks on virtual servers.

AWS led the charge by launching AWS Lambda and revolutionizing how cloud hosting works. Instead of renting and managing entire servers to run your website (whether users navigate it or not), you can pay for functionality usage based on demand.

With Lambda, AWS is revolutionizing how cloud hosting works. Instead of renting and managing entire servers to run your website (whether users navigate it or not), you can pay for functionality usage based on demand. With AWS Lambda, you can isolate and deploy a specific functionality of your website like resizing photos or messaging, and Amazon will take care of auto-scaling this function to implement this particular task. You only get billed when the function is being run, and you don’t need to provision or scale servers, hence the name “Serverless.”

The recent State of Serverless Report 2017 revealed 43% of company respondents are using functions-as-a-service (FaaS) platforms like AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, or Google Cloud Functions. Read more in my blog How to Deploy AWS Lambda: Toward a Serverless Architecture or take my course on AWS Lambda and the Serverless Framework on Udemy.

In addition to AWS Lambda, other serverless skills you and your IT team will need to master include API Gateway (how to expose your functions to the outside world) and DynamoDB (serverless database storage that scales on demand). Amazon S3 is a scalable serverless storage site that lets you upload videos and media in a serverless way. Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network that distributes data, videos, applications and APIs globally with high transfer speeds and low latency. My course teaches you how to master this suite of AWS serverless technologies.

3. Disaster recovery

Finally, the latest AWS Solutions Architect exam also dedicates a good portion to disaster recovery. How do you architect an application, so when a whole data center goes down you have a backup? This might include putting backup data on a different cloud server in a different country or location. This applies not just to the cloud, but to on-premise data centers as well. Even if you don’t primarily operate in the cloud, you need to build a “failover” in the cloud as a backup. Generally, disaster recovery has four strategies. Each strategy has a different Recover Point Object (RPO) and Recovery Time Object (RTO). RPO expresses how much data loss a company can tolerate in terms of minutes, hours, or days. RTO reflects how much time a company’s servers are willing to be down. The lower the RPO and RTO, the more costly your disaster recovery strategy will be. The four strategies include:

  • Backup and restore. This involves sending backups every once in a while to the AWS cloud. When disaster strikes, you can restore data from these backups. However, there will be some data loss, depending on how frequently you schedule your backups. When it comes to restoring your data, you will have to spin up an entirely new infrastructure. This is the least expensive option. It’s the most suitable for a video game website, but less appropriate for a bank.

  • Pilot light. Similar to a pilot light in your kitchen, this approach keeps critical systems like your database up and running, but does not include all of your web servers. If disaster strikes, you will still need to spin up your entire infrastructure, but you’ll have the most critical elements ready to go.

  • Warm standby. In this case, you have a copy of your entire infrastructure up and running in another region. It’s not in use, but it’s ready to scale quickly when needed. Retail websites that might need to ramp up during big sales events can set up ramp up infrastructure in another location as a backup.

  • Multi-sites. In this situation, organizations would have their full production load running on-premise and on the cloud, both used at the same time. By running a multi-data center, if one fails, you can failover to another one. This scenario has the lowest RPO and RTO but it’s the most expensive. However, it’s the right approach for large enterprises such as a multinational bank.

My course helps solutions architects understand all the different disaster recovery strategies and technical solutions based on your organization’s requirements and appetite for downtime and data loss (RPO and RTO).

Finally, IT solutions architecture is changing quickly and my advice is to continually learn and stay on top of the latest trends and technologies. I expect AWS to continue to innovate on this front to help IT teams deliver a more efficient IT architecture, so stay tuned for new developments to come.

About the author:

Stephane Maarek is a Udemy for Business instructor and experienced consultant on AWS. You can reach him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanemaarek.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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