Creating innovation in life sciences with an open source, software-defined data center

The life sciences industry is an industry in transformation. Big data, mobility, advanced analytics, and more—with cloud computing amidst it all—are providing new opportunities for companies to innovate, accelerate research and development, and even cut costs. They’ll have to proceed, of course, with caution, considering the highly-regulated environment in which life sciences companies operate. So what’s the best course, and what should the life sciences data center of the future look like?

We recommend companies consider a software-defined data center that’s built using open-source technologies, especially those that enable open hybrid clouds based on open-source standards like OpenStack. The life sciences data center of the future needs to be highly automated, self-healing, highly extensible, built on open standards and controlled via software.

Much of the IT systems in use today at pharmaceuticals and other life sciences companies are antiquated and proprietary, with only pockets of open-source technologies. But today’s tech-savvy users are demanding. They want agile IT. In some cases, users or even departments are turning to public cloud computing services without the knowledge of, or approval from, the IT department—a function we all know as shadow IT.

A software-defined data center based on open source can help solve several key pain points life sciences companies are struggling with: IT responsiveness; costs; and operations that are, for the most part, more reactive than proactive. Consider, for example, the findings of a May 2012 survey conducted by Gatepoint Research and Red Hat on healthcare information technology trends that queried more than 100 executives. Nearly all, or 95 percent, said improving operational efficiencies was the most important issue, while 87 percent said containing costs was the most important. Three-quarters, or 75 percent, said delivering apps more quickly was tops, and 67 percent said increasing use and usability of self-service was the most pressing issue.

But the proprietary systems—of which many in life sciences and the healthcare industries still have—may be hampering their ability to solve these issues. The Gatepoint Research survey found that proprietary systems were contributing to a high total cost of ownership (TCO), operational inefficiencies, integration difficulties, slow application development and/or deployment and more.

An open hybrid cloud built on OpenStack can alleviate many of these problems. OpenStack is a well-developed ecosystem backed by major technology providers, including Red Hat. The OpenStack Foundation, which manages and promotes the open-source stack, has the backing of more than 22,000 individual members from 155 countries and 490 supporting companies. OpenStack is a modular platform that lets an IT organization start small with a private cloud architecture and scale it as needed to a larger private or even public and private hybrid cloud. Costs can be contained via less expensive public cloud services while the necessary security and privacy requirements so critical for life sciences can be managed via private cloud services.

All too often, when a life sciences line-of-business executive wants to launch a marketing program to test the market viability of a newly approved drug, he or she will have to wait. Today, the executive has to put in a request to the IT department—a request that might take weeks or longer to fulfill, because the timeline to provision more capacity is simply too long. With an open hybrid cloud that lets IT and development teams become service providers (via a SaaS model), line-of-business executives can be freed from the traditional IT engagement model. Instead, they can access a self-service system to launch the necessary compute capacity, run the program, and get results in days. And it can be done without using shadow IT, in the protected and watchful eye of the IT and legal departments to ensure regulatory compliance.

Although open source technologies, including OpenStack, aren’t the norm in the life sciences industry, OpenStack is catching the attention of IT professionals in this industry. According to the Gatepoint Research and Red Hat survey, 57 percent of respondents said that within five years they plan to move their infrastructure to an open cloud environment. Twenty percent said they will replace proprietary middleware with open source environments. We recommend enterprises in the life sciences industry take a long hard look at OpenStack and begin moving, sooner than later, to an open hybrid cloud architecture based on open-source standards.

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