The last time I participated in Bio-IT World it was May 2005. While Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee keynoted the event opening by sharing his vision for a next-generation Web, those of us in the trenches (aka. the exhibits area) attempted to communicate the value proposition for grid computing - or was it Grid computing, or even Grid Computing ...
About a week after officially joining Bright Computing, I once again had the opportunity to participate in Bio-IT World. With more than double the number of participants than the 2005 event, the 2013 event continued the tradition of resonating with the biotech scene in the Greater Boston area.
This time, however, I noticed a distinct inversion in many of the conversations I had with those who dropped by the Bright booth: In many cases I found myself responding to expressions of interest in, as well as initial successes with, use of cloud-based infrastructures. In other words, Bright prospects, customers and partners were telling me their stories, rather than me framing possibilities for them. How refreshing!
From these conversations various data points became evident. For example, from the conversations with representatives of large pharmaceutical companies, there emerged the use case for complementing on-site resources with those available via the cloud. In this scenario, workloads that exceed site capacity are diverted to the cloud - please see the illustration below.
Resource locality versus organization size in two scenarios. (Please see the end note regarding relative proportions.)
At the opposite end of the organizational-size spectrum are biotech start-ups. Being start-ups, minimal IT resources exist on-site. By extending their local IT infrastructure into the cloud, start-ups can validate, demonstrate and ultimately establish a viable business in a cost-effective fashion - please see the illustration above.
Whether big pharma or biotech start-up, these use cases are motivated by a common need for accelerated time-to-results. Well-motivated and self-validated use cases allowed delegates and Bright staff to engage in detailed technical discussions. As a logical consequence, the ability to provision, monitor and manage an Amazon EC2 instance via Bright Cluster Manager (please see the illustration below) was received with considerable interest.
Resource locality versus organization size in two scenarios. In both scenarios, on-site IT infrastructure is extended into an Amazon EC2 cloud instance via the Bright Cluster Manager. (Please see the end note regarding relative proportions.)
As anyone with a background in HPC knows, this offloading approach is not a solution applicable to all classes of computational workloads. Briefly, this approach works extremely effectively with embarrassingly parallel workloads - a latency-tolerant problem deconstruction based on exploiting parallelism that naturally exist in the data. Fortunately, the computational needs of problems in the life sciences can often be cast as embarrassingly parallel workloads.
Although the extension of on-site IT infrastructure into the cloud works quite well for workloads typical to the life sciences, this discipline does present a number of additional requirements that need to be addressed:
The ability to provision, monitor and manage Amazon EC2 instances via the Bright Cluster Manager has been proven with customers in the life-sciences for over a year now.
Finally, and to present as balanced a perspective as possible, it’s not completely fair weather for those interested in extending their on-site IT infrastructure into the cloud. One significant, outstanding challenge is that of satisfying the regulations that govern the pursuit of business in the life-sciences arena. Although technology can serve as an enabler here, and again based on conversations with delegates at Bio-IT World, the primary issues are not technical in nature. Not unlike concerns relating to privacy and the cloud, the regulatory needs of this market need to be addressed so the life sciences can fully embrace the cloud.
Through the lens of Bio-IT World, the life sciences presents in 2013 as dynamic and engaging as it did about 8 years ago. To be continued ...