Moving to Cloud to Gain Agility: 5 Lessons

Drug-maker Biogen Idec's IT team used cloud infrastructure to give the company's research scientists new flexibility. Consider these key lessons learned as they adopted CloudSwitch and Amazon technology.

By Robert Lemos
Mon, March 14, 2011

CIO — When Biogen Idec considered a move to the cloud, cost savings was not the primary concern. For a biotechnology company that lives and dies by its research division, the ability to quickly spin up computer resources for its scientists was far more important.

A pioneer in treatments for multiple sclerosis, Biogen Idec (BIIB) needed to quickly assign computing resources to support its researchers. Yet, provisioning servers and applications to new projects requires a lot of planning, effort and support, says William Hayes, director of IT for the R&D section's decision support group.

"One of the things that was a challenge for us is to get servers deployed so we can use them," Hayes says. "It takes anywhere from weeks, for virtual servers, to months, for physical servers."

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The company's foray into cloud promises to change that, he says. Using an enterprise cloud gateway from CloudSwitch, the company can securely allocate new servers within a few minutes and at half the cost of using internal infrastructure, says Hayes.

1. First Wins Will Be Quick

In fact, the company has reduced the time to create a new server to less than ten minutes, he says. An IT manager can log into a Web site and create a Red Hat server or an Ubuntu server within a few minutes. Because the research groups have such disparate demands, the flexibility of quickly creating instances of different types of servers is a huge benefit, Hayes says.

"We tend to need a lot of throwaway servers of different sources, and in a lot of cases we need nonstandard servers," Hayes says.

The need for quickly-provisioned resources is common among companies that focus on R&D, says Ellen Rubin, founder and vice president of products at CloudSwitch, a startup that focuses on easing access to cloud resources, especially for companies with legacy apps.

"These companies often can't get the physical IT resources quickly enough," she says. "Cloud is an inherently attractive thing for these companies."

2. Paying for Cloud Can Be Tricky

One downside to many cloud services, such as Amazon's EC2, it their relatively inflexibility in terms of payment. It may seem odd, but many companies do not allow recurring payments through credit-card accounts.

Like many firms, Biogen Idec works on a purchase order basis; the IT department does not have a credit card that they can use to pay large recurring expenses. That created a problem when signing up for an account with Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud service.

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