AWS Architecture Blog

Author Spotlight: Margaret O’Toole, WW Tech Leader in Sustainability at AWS

The Author Spotlight series pulls back the curtain on some of AWS’s most prolific authors. Read on to find out more about our very own Margaret O’Toole’s journey, in her own words!

My favorite part of working at AWS is collaborating with my peers. Over the last five years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with a wide range of smart, passionate, curious people. Many of whom have been co-authors of the blogs we’ve written together.

When I joined AWS in 2017, I joined as a Cloud Support Associate in Northern Virginia. My team focused on DevOps, and while I focused on Containers mostly, I was also pushed to expand my knowledge. With that, I started to invest time with AWS OpsWorks (in large part thanks to Darko Mesaroš (Sr Developer Advocate), who many of you may know and love!). Although I was really excited about the agile, scalable nature of containers, I knew that it was important to understand how to manage configuration changes more broadly.

In 2019, I decided to leave AWS Support and become a Solutions Architect (SA) in Berlin. I’ve always been really interested in systems and how different components of a system worked together—in fact, this is exactly why I studied computer science and biology at university. My role as an SA pushed me to look at customer challenges from completely new perspectives. Now, instead of helping customers with a single component of their workload, I worked with customers on massive, multi-component workloads. I was exposed to new technology that I hadn’t worked with in my Support role, like AWS Control Tower, Amazon SageMaker, and AWS IoT. In many ways, I was learning alongside my customers, and we were bouncing ideas around together to make sure we were architecting the best possible solutions for their needs.

However, I always had a passion for sustainability. When I was in university, I was mostly interested in the intersection between natural systems and synthetic systems—I really wanted to understand how I could combine my passion for sustainability with the power of the AWS Cloud. And, as it turned out, so did many others at AWS! We spent most of 2020 working on experiments and writing narratives (the Amazonian version of a pitch), to better understand if customers wanted to work with AWS on sustainability related challenges, and if so, on what topics. My work today comes directly from the results of those initial customer interactions.

These events also marked a big change in my career! In 2020, I transitioned to a full-time sustainability role, becoming a Sustainability Solutions Architect—a novel function at the time. Today, I’m based in Copenhagen, and my focus is to help customers globally build the most energy-efficient and sustainable workloads on AWS. Every day, I find ways for customers to leverage AWS to solve challenges within their sustainability strategy.

Favorite blog posts

Perform Continuous cookbook integration testing and delivery for AWS OpsWorks for Chef Automate

My very first blog at AWS was on how to do Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery with AWS OpsWorks. A group of us in AWS Support were asked to build out a lab that could be used at ChefConf, which we turned into a blog post.

Many customers are using tools like Chef Automate and Puppet to manage large sets of infrastructure, but finding cloud-native approaches to these tools was not always super obvious. My favorite part of writing this blog post was combining cloud-native ideas with traditional infrastructure management tools.

How to setup and use AWS OpsWorks for Chef Automate or Puppet Enterprise in an isolated subnet

We also saw that customers wanted to understand how to leverage cloud network security in their OpsWorks environment, and so we decided to build a walkthrough on how to use OpsWorks for Chef Automate or Puppet Enterprise in an isolated subnet.

How to set up automatic failover for AWS OpsWorks for Chef Automate

In addition to wanting to move fast and be secure, our customers also wanted to have reliability baked into their workloads. For many customers, their Chef Automate Server is a critical component, and they cannot afford downtime.

Sustainability content

Ask an Expert – Sustainability

In August 2021, Joe Beer, WW Technology Leader, and I worked on Architecture Monthly discussing the overlap between sustainability and technology.

Sustainability is a really broad topic, so in order to help scope conversations, we broke the topic down into three main categories: sustainability of, in, and through the Cloud:

  • Sustainability of the Cloud is AWS’s responsibility, and it covers things like our renewable energy projects, continuous work to increase the energy efficiency of our data centers, and all work that supports our goal of operating as environmentally friendly as possible.
  • Sustainability in the Cloud is the customers’ responsibility. AWS is committed to sustainable operations, but builders also need to consider sustainability as a core non-functional requirement. To make this clearer, a set of best practices have been published in the Well Architected Sustainability Pillar.
  • Sustainability through the Cloud covers all of the ways that the cloud solutions support sustainability strategies. Smart EV charging, for example, uses the AWS Cloud and AI/ML to lessen the aggregate impact to the grid that may occur because of EV charging peaks and ramp ups.

Throughout 2021, we worked with customers in almost all industries on both sustainability in and through the cloud, putting together a lineup of various sustainability talks at re:Invent 2021.

A highlight for me, personally, was seeing the AWS Well-Architected Framework Sustainability Pillar whitepaper released. After spending most of my AWS writing career on internal documentation or blog posts, leading the development of a full whitepaper was a completely new experience. I’m proud of the result and excited to continue to work on improving the content. Today, you can find the pillar in the Well-Architected tool and also explore some labs.

Architecting for sustainability: a re:Invent 2021 recap

We also did a deep dive into one of the sessions to highlight some of the key themes from the Well-Architected Pillar and the unique actions Starbucks took to reduce their footprint.

Elise Chahine

Elise Chahine

Elise is Architecture Field Content Manager for AWS, where she heads the Architecture Blog channel and field-generated documentation. She works closely with authors to develop succinct, technically accurate publications that help customers architect. When Elise is not rubbing shoulders with the brilliant minds of AWS, she enjoys a quiet life with her family in New England.