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July 14, 2010

Into The Crystal Ball: The Future Potential of Cloud Computing In Life Sciences

Bruce Maches

I have decided to go a little off track with the original intent of the structure of these posts but thought this would be worthwhile theme given that future direction of cloud computing is always a hot topic. The content of this post is to answer the question: “If I could paint a perfect picture of the future of cloud computing in the life sciences what would that look like”?
The best thing about making predictions is that you can always hedge your bets. If you are right you can always say ‘I told you so’ and if you are not you can point out mitigating factors as to why your predictions didn’t come true.

So let’s take another look at some of the challenges/issues that life science CIO’s are dealing with as mentioned in previous posts.

• Facilitating the ever increasing complex drug development process

• Delivering scientific applications that require increasingly massive amounts of compute and storage resources

• Ensuring compliance in regards to FDA, SOX, & HIPPA regulations

• Validating new applications and maintaining existing applications per 21 CFR Part 11 guidelines

• Managing user expectations while dealing with budgetary pressure

• Supporting organizational business goals and objectives

• Ensuring the company receives the maximum value out of its investments in IT

• Delivering IT services to help reduce time-to-market for new cures

• Managing and supporting an ageing infrastructure

• Protecting valuable corporate information assets and intellectual property

• Attempting to direct scarce IT resources to more value added activities

So, the question is: if you could paint a perfect picture of the future of cloud computing what would it look like? Certainly there are some aspects of cloud that will need to be improved before cloud computing techniques can be fully integrated as a standard part of the IT tool set in life science companies. Both cloud product/service vendors and cloud computing consumers will need to have addressed both real and perceived issues in regards to:

• The ability to validate cloud based applications to meet 21 CFR Part 11 regulatory guidelines to satisfy both internal regulatory compliance procedures and the FDA

• Ensuring the performance and bandwidth concerns are no longer an issue

• Overall regulatory compliance (HIPPA, SOX, etc) addressed

• Cloud users will need to have developed clear strategies and strong internal standards/governance practices regarding the use of cloud computing for both private and public clouds

• Cloud vendors will need assure their customers that they provide robust data protection and security for critical corporate data assets maintained in shared environments 

• Reliable and seamless integration between internal, private and public cloud  resources to create one large virtual resource pool

• Better tools/processes for migrating legacy applications to the cloud

• The ability to provision pre-qualified infrastructure via the cloud reducing validation effort and costs

As the cloud offerings ‘eco-system’ of products, services, standards, and methodologies matures life science CIO’s will have a broader array of tools at their disposal to deliver information technology services. Given the right strategy on how to use cloud the application landscape for many life science companies could be markedly different in the next 5 to 7 years. So the big question is what would this look like? Will life science CIO’s have the foresight to start creating the strategies and programs of work to fully leverage cloud computing and what it can provide? Will the cloud vendors provide the requisite products and services that would compel life science CIO’s to speed up migration to the cloud? Having been a CIO and Director in several bio-techs the following is what I would want in my application environment:

• The ability to purchase pre-qualified infrastructure services and machine images reducing validation effort and costs

• A robust internal cloud environment for mission critical or highly confidential applications which can leverage public cloud resources during times of high demand

• The outsourcing of non-core applications such as financial, HR, and CRM applications to SAAS providers

• Greater adoption of PAAS environments for new application development

• Utilizing cloud services for backup and recovery

• Being able to leverage cloud infrastructure for disaster recovery and business continuity planning

• Provisioning of development environments via the cloud reducing internal hardware requirements

• Leveraging pre-validated software packages offered via SAAS for standard functions such as document management and regulatory filing publication

• Reducing the legacy application footprint by migrating older validated applications into the cloud

As the use of cloud becomes more prevalent those forward thinking CIO’s will find more and more ways to improve their service delivery and value to their end users while reducing costs and complexity. If they can formulate the right mix of internal and external resources to provide their users with the right tools it will be a case of, “if you build it they will come” and when they do the life science CIO had better be ready.

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