Ellen Rubin is the founder and Vice President of Products for CloudSwitch, which allows enterprises to run applications in the cloud without re-architecting the application or changing existing management tools.
Enterprises across many industries have taken their first steps into the cloud. As comfort levels grow, companies are starting to move beyond small, experimental projects to full-scale adoption and deployments. Pharma is emerging as the breakout industry that is leading the way.
What Makes Cloud Work for Pharma?
Pharmaceutical companies have many characteristics that make them ideal candidates for the cloud. They need massive computing power for the complex informatics that go into scientific and drug development research. They’re familiar with high-performance grid computing and the need to scale resources to support their R&D work. Until now, they’ve had to bear the huge costs and delays of provisioning those resources internally. And since a single day can represent millions of dollars in sales for a breakthrough drug, they’re under great pressure to get to market quickly and efficiently.
Amazon has helped a number of major pharmaceuticals become early cloud adopters, taking advantage of the flexibility and scalability of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Now the pharmas are getting more ambitious with their cloud initiatives, and Eli Lilly is one of the companies leading the way. According to Lilly’s CIO, Michael Heim, the company is using AWS to provide high-performance computing on demand to hundreds of its research scientists. Their ability to provision new servers in a few minutes rather than after many weeks has a potentially game-changing impact on product development cycles, leading ultimately to higher profits. Heim notes that the company is also exploring ways to expand the use of cloud computing beyond short-term research projects and sees cloud computing as central to its future IT strategy.
Patterns of Utilization
This progression into the cloud is occurring in parallel at several other pharma companies. We’ve been working with many of the large pharmas as both customers and prospects, and we’re seeing a consistent set of use cases that explain why cloud is important to them:
- Burst/peak scale-out – The cloud provides pay-as-you-go computing power on demand for short projects or when spiky use exceeds capacity, such as when thousands of servers are needed for four hours to run models of complex genetic sequencing, molecular modeling and chemical interactions. Informatics teams are particularly interested in using the cloud as an extension of their internal cluster environments.
- Improving the application lifecycle – The cloud is used for development and test activities (pre-production), providing a cost-effective way to get selected applications off on-premise resources and reduce data center fixed costs. Load and performance testing can be done cost-effectively in a highly scalable way, and the application environment can be brought back in-house when it’s ready for production.
- Collaboration – The cloud can also provide a flexible, cost-effective, and secure platform for collaborating across multiple organizations, where users are geographically distributed scientist/research teams who require access to large pools of resources.
The Demand for Choice
We’re also seeing another interesting development: as their cloud experience grows, the pharmas are eager to exploit all the capabilities the cloud has to offer. They’re demanding more from their cloud providers: more high-compute resources, more streamlined procurement, and contract terms more aligned with enterprise requirements. Several have also noted they don’t want to be bound to a particular cloud provider, and are pushing for more flexibility to take advantage of offerings from multiple clouds.
The pharmas are now looking for ways to move workloads between their internal environments and multiple external clouds without worrying about the technical details needed to make the deployment work. In our discussions with pharma leadership, we hear the need for an “orchestration layer” that could identify the best cloud offering for a given workload and then provision resources automatically, regardless of the cloud provider’s architecture. This transparency and simplicity is the “holy grail” of cloud computing, and the pharma companies are exploring vendor solutions to bring it about.
Paving the Way
All this innovation is good news for the cloud. As a beachhead market for enterprise cloud adoption, pharma is paving the way for companies in other industries to move forward with their own initiatives. While many pharma leaders aren’t ready to be named publicly, they’re actively using the cloud for development, testing, and production environments. The cloud is now firmly embedded in their IT plans, both for short-term projects as well as for their longer-term strategy. As these efforts pay off, it will help the cloud gain credibility in other industries, and continue to drive customer focus and value in cloud offerings.
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