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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Up, Up and Away

The potential of discovering new medical advancements is being stifled because of inefficient data processing. But utilising cloud computing technology, researchers and scientists will be able to collaborate in more proficient ways.

Life sciences research has the power to unlock medical mysteries, provide the basis for new life-altering drugs, and set the stage for long-term discoveries that we can now only imagine. As a result, the stakes are high for providing the tools to facilitate a new age of research capability.

Collaborative teams in biomedical research and pharmacology – as well as those in academia, government and national laboratories worldwide – are in the middle of a data deluge where there is the need to quickly and efficiently exchange and process vast amounts of information. The demand for computationally complex modelling and simulation studies also continues to rise dramatically as new research technologies can create tens of gigabytes of data for each experimental run. We’re also seeing that as the cost of DNA sequencing decreases steadily, the amount of data generated with next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies grows at an unprecedented pace. In this age of big genomics data, how to conveniently share the tremendous volume of data has become a significant research bottleneck. Moving huge data sets in a secure and reliable way, with the appropriate regulatory compliance is the critical first step of the data innovation chain. Thankfully, new data transport and sharing technologies provide researchers with the tools to simplify and speed up workflows, as well as greatly enhance the transport, analysis, transformation and sharing of big data. Disparate internal and external research systems can now be connected, creating an environment that is flexible, collaborative, secure and conformant to the many regulations that surround it.

Innovation Leverages the Benefits of the Cloud

While the inherent advantages of cloud computing are numerous – virtually unlimited, on-demand increases in transfer, storage, compute and bandwidth – the technical challenges of cloud infrastructure have prevented its adoption in the life sciences industry. New technologies and cloud architectures have overcome these roadblocks, enabling scale-out transfer, analysis, and sharing and distribution of large volumes of research data, be it to a lab next door or continents away. These benefits can be leveraged for the life science research community, transforming workflows, decreasing costs and dramatically improving collaboration.

The cloud-based process begins with a new, ultra high-speed data transfer protocol that transports large amounts of data exponentially faster and more securely than conventional methods, such as FTP or HTTP. This new technology eliminates the problems of slow transfers and network congestion that accompanies legacy transport systems, to unlock the power of the cloud for life science research. Researchers and organisations can now securely transfer files of any size to and from cloud platforms at full line speed, independent of distance and network conditions. Data can be uploaded and downloaded in and out of the cloud easily and quickly – up to 1,000 times faster than traditional transport modes. At the same time, precise bandwidth control maximises use while accommodating other business-critical network traffic. Data security, in transit and dormant, is maintained, and it features secure data storage, data encryption and integrity verification.

While the underlying technology is complex, intuitive user interfaces make it easy to launch high-speed uploads and downloads of large data sets. Transferring and accessing data in the cloud not only speeds workflows, it also enables nearly real-time sharing. As cloud-based services are accessible from anywhere, connecting with collaboration partners via virtual workspaces is far easier than setting up dedicated environments behind firewalls. A new age of collaboration across the globe is exploding.

“By 2015, one of every seven dollars spent on packaged software, server and storage offerings will be through the public cloud model. The cloud movement is about much more than the cloud. Cloud cannot be sufficiently understood as a standalone phenomenon in the IT market, but rather as a core ingredient of a larger transformation of the IT industry – and many other industries using IT to transform themselves”, a spokesperson at IDC Research states.

Practical Advantages

In this age of ever-tightening budgets and funding challenges, the financial benefits of cloud computing should not be underestimated. Cloud utilisation eliminates the risk of having to invest in expensive IT infrastructure as well as the resources required to deploy traditional data centres, while lowering operational costs. Furthermore, cloud-based models also enable companies to only pay for the capacity they use, which allows them to scale back as required. This flexibility is critical to the nature of pharmaceutical and biomedical research, where activity and big data transport can occur in periodic bursts rather than at a sustained, year-round and calculable pace. Rapid, easy deployment saves resources, while instant scalability allows organisations to meet unexpected demand for computing and storage. Long term, organisations can reduce research costs and accelerate time to market.

New Life Science Platforms

This type of innovation recently enabled genomic data to be transported at a sustained rate of almost 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) over a new link connecting US and China research and education networks. This data rate is equivalent to moving more than 100 million megabytes – over 5,400 full Blu-ray discs – in a single day. The use of a 10 gigabit network connection was groundbreaking, very much like email replacing hand delivered mail for communication, and shows what is possible over the internet. High-speed transfer software enables quick data movement across the globe for projects such as a major genome research initiative, which provides vast public databases for the study of human genomic variation. Scientific users also enjoy familiar Unix-style interfaces, embeddable APIs and user-friendly web and desktop GUIs.

As with other industries migrating data workflows to the cloud, there is bound to be hesitancy for adoption among the life sciences community. However, the proof is in the marketplace, as organisations test and deploy cloud-based solutions.

The promise and growth of this area has prompted a service provider to launch its own life science communications network. A UK-based telecommunications giant recently launched the first cloud service designed to enable collaboration within the life sciences industry. Engineered specifically to increase R&D productivity, the platform is secure and segregated for scientists in pharmaceutical, biotech, devices and diagnostics companies, as well as in academia and government. With the new high-speed data transport technology as its backbone, the platform provides comprehensive features that enable researchers to construct workflows and data pipelines to identify new pharmaceutical targets and drug candidates while working collaboratively, creating global project groups and interacting using social media tools. This ecosystem allows the group to securely upload documents, share results, and communicate through instant message (IM), voice, video or chat to analyse results in an environment that segments data and uses qualified hardware components and workflows specific to the pharmaceutical industry. Full security services allow organisations and researchers to design data encryption, anonymisation, risk management and resilience to meet specific quality and regulatory requirements for the cloud environment.

More Adoption, More Breakthroughs The benefits of cloud utilisation in the life sciences industry make it easy to see why cloud adoption is on the rise. Best-of-breed, fully managed cloud infrastructures – with on-demand computing and storage – deliver 99.99 per cent uptime and round-the-clock service, transferring data regardless of their size, transfer distances or network conditions. Built-in compliance features meet the majority of regulatory regimes around the world, or enable specialisation to meet specific needs. Security features are robust, providing no greater risk than legacy measures, and costs are lowered throughout the research process. Yet, most importantly, the cloud powers innovation, enabling researchers and scientists to interact and collaborate in new, smarter and more efficient ways. That paves the way for faster discoveries and greater impact on the global health community. No matter how we get there, that’s the most exciting news of all.

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Richard Heitmann is responsible for Aspera's marketing activities, and has over 15 years of experience in developing and marketing a broad set of enterprise solutions. He was Vice President of marketing at Atempo and Vice President of product management and marketing at EVault. He has held senior leadership positions at Phoenix Technologies, WatchGuard Technologies and Onyx Software. Richard holds a BA in Mathematics and Economics from University of California, Santa Barbara, and an MBA from the University of Washington. 
Richard Heitmann
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