GEN_cox-automotive-logo_2048x820_Feb-2022

Cox Automotive Invests Funds to Reduce Risks Using the AWS Well-Architected Tool

2022

Cox Automotive had a vision to streamline its technology stack while maintaining a high standard of best practices across its 53 data centers and 350 engineering teams. To modernize its technology stack and create common architectures throughout the company, Cox Automotive turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS). “We needed a standard framework to collect data on the health of our architecture,” says Brian Lloyd-Newberry, Associate Vice President of Architecture for the Cox Automotive data portfolio. “Every team was doing something different, and we weren’t able to clearly communicate risk, investment posture, and architectural and operational health.”

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The AWS Well-Architected Tool provided a third-party, objective framework that was simple to score, evaluate, and present in a way that our executives could appreciate.”

Chris Dillon
Vice President of Architecture, Cox Automotive

As part of its migration to AWS, Cox Automotive started using the AWS Well-Architected Tool, which helps organizations review the state of their applications and workloads and provides architectural best practices. Using data from a series of reviews completed using the AWS Well-Architected Tool, the Cox Automotive Product Group secured executive sponsorship to reduce risk and technical debt as well as increase security and reliability.

Embracing the AWS Well-Architected Framework

Cox Automotive, a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises, includes brands such as Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. The company provides a suite of software-as-a-service and digital marketplace offerings for automotive dealerships as well as additional software and services for automotive manufacturers and consumers. In 2016, the company began a concentrated migration to the cloud, selecting AWS as its service provider. From the beginning, Cox Automotive applied the best practices of the AWS Well-Architected Framework, which helps organizations learn best practices for designing and operating secure, reliable, efficient, and cost-effective workloads on AWS. Working alongside AWS solutions architects, Cox Automotive learned how to drive improvements by aligning its cloud architecture with the five pillars of the AWS Well-Architected Framework: operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimization.

Cox Automotive used the AWS Well-Architected Framework as a benchmark, applying the pillars to all its new workloads on AWS, the workloads that it was migrating to AWS, and the applications remaining in its data centers. At first, engineers applied the framework by printing out a PDF and going through a set of questions manually, recording the responses in spreadsheets. In 2018, AWS released the AWS Well-Architected Tool, which Cox Automotive began using to review workloads in relation to the five pillars. Using the AWS Well-Architected Tool, Cox Automotive now had the ability to document the maturity of its workloads and portfolios and could use that data to drive investment and communicate application health. In December 2020, Cox Automotive joined the beta program for the AWS Well-Architected Tool API, a software interface that customers use to extend the functionality of the AWS Well-Architected Tool and build integrations for a broad range of use cases. “When the API for the AWS Well-Architected Tool came along, it helped us unlock data that shows the health of our workloads,” says Lloyd-Newberry. “At this point, we started to have a truly data-driven architecture practice.”

Using AWS Well-Architected Tool Data to Reduce Risk

Cox Automotive built an in-house application to extract data from the API using the AWS Cloud Development Kit (AWS CDK), an open-source software development framework that developers can use to define cloud application resources using familiar programming languages. “Using AWS CDK made it so simple to make an app to pull this data and work with it,” says Lloyd-Newberry. The application went live in March 2021 and uses serverless technology such as AWS Lambda, an event-driven compute service that lets users run code for virtually any type of application or backend service without provisioning or managing servers.

Using the data collected from the AWS Well-Architected Tool, cloud architects at Cox Automotive presented a summary of the findings to the executive team. The review data helped the team secure a significant investment into the company’s solutions for reducing risk and improving security and resilience. “We would not have gotten the level of investment in the risk-reduction work we desired if we didn’t have the data to back it up,” says Chris Dillon, Vice President of Architecture for Cox Automotive. “The AWS Well-Architected Tool provided a third-party, objective framework that was simple to score, evaluate, and present in a way that our executives could appreciate.” Using data derived from the AWS Well-Architected Tool, teams at Cox Automotive developed dashboards to communicate investment needs to executives. For example, one team conducted a review of the maturity of DevOps practices and continuous integration and delivery pipelines across the organization. “It has been amazing to answer questions about the health of our organization based on custom insights we’re deriving from AWS Well-Architected data and blending with other data across the organization,” says Lloyd-Newberry.

By using the AWS Well-Architected Tool to review its workloads, Cox Automotive can help teams focus their time on doing work that drives investment and improvement. “We have increased the satisfaction of architects, who see the impact of their work and feel more valuable,” says Lloyd-Newberry. Using the AWS Well-Architected Framework has also helped Cox Automotive clarify its values and align its objectives across its 350 engineering teams. For example, using the AWS Well-Architected Tool has helped the company communicate the importance of cost optimization as an ongoing discipline and institute new cultural practices such as game days, which improve operational efficiency. “The outcome of these practices is a dramatic reduction in risk,” says Dillon. “Ultimately, customers experience this reduction in risk and technical debt as more uptime, improved quality of our solutions, and greater responsiveness in the experiences that we deliver.”

Integrating the AWS Well-Architected Framework Moving Forward

Cox Automotive is taking steps to cultivate the use of the AWS Well-Architected Tool across its broad technology environment, including its project management system. “We evaluate our workloads and recommend remediation,” says Gene Mahon, Engineering Operations Director at Cox Automotive. “Once that work is complete, we will reevaluate to see if we have moved the needle. The endgame for us is a well-connected, automated environment that ties all the steps together.” The company has also started incorporating Custom Lenses, a feature of the AWS Well-Architected Tool that lets customers create their own pillars, questions, best practices, helpful resources, and improvement plans. “We’re using the AWS Well-Architected Framework to organize the way we measure our engineering maturity across the organization,” says Mahon. “It’s given us a holistic view for driving engineering forward.”


About Cox Automotive

Cox Automotive aims to make buying, selling, owning, and using vehicles easier for everyone and is one of the world’s largest automotive services providers. The company’s brands include Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, and Manheim.

Benefits of AWS

  • Secured internal investment to help reduce risk
  • Focused time on work that drives investment and improvement
  • Consolidated workloads and clarified best practices across 350 engineering teams
  • Reduced risk and increased security across its workloads

AWS Services Used

AWS Well-Architected Tool

Designed to help you review the state of your applications and workloads, it provides a central place for architectural best practices and guidance.

Learn more »

AWS Well-Architected Framework

Learn architectural best practices for designing and operating reliable, secure, efficient, and cost-effective systems in the cloud.

Learn more »

AWS Cloud Development Kit (AWS CDK)

Open-source software development framework to define your cloud application resources using familiar programming languages.

Learn more »

AWS Lambda

Serverless, event-driven compute service that lets you run code for virtually any type of application or backend service without provisioning or managing servers. 

Learn more »

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