Pharma company sings praises of its public cloud migration

AMAG Pharmaceuticals eliminated its data center in 2008 for public cloud, and now enjoys the ability to hire and fire cloud vendors at will.

NEW YORK – Many companies struggle with cloud migrations even now, but one pharmaceutical firm eliminated most of its private data center five years ago in favor of public cloud.

AMAG Pharmaceuticals Inc., a 150-person firm based in Lexington, Mass., has about 80 servers and 9 terabytes of data, which it can move among public clouds at will -- as it demonstrated when it migrated from NaviSite Inc. to Amazon Web Services (AWS) three months ago. (Update 6-26-13: While AWS is now AMAG’s primary cloud vendor, AMAG still uses NaviSite as a backup.)

"The great flexibility of the cloud is that you can fire a vendor very easily," said Nathan McBride, vice president of IT and chief cloud architect at AMAG, in a presentation at Cloud Expo here this week.

McBride declined to specify exactly why the company moved from one provider to the other, but did say that its current request for proposals asks vendors to work with AMAG to develop an ephemeral, AWS-based analytics platform.

"We give vendors one month" to come up with new capabilities, McBride said -- and if AMAG's needs aren't met in that time frame, it seeks another vendor.

Though a public cloud migration can be complicated, AMAG's data migration was actually easy, McBride said. His company used a tool from VaultLogix to accelerate data transfer, and NaviSite and AWS both have tools to import workloads from other clouds.

None of this has been done without trial and tribulation.

Nathan McBride,
vice president of IT and chief cloud architect, AMAG

Meanwhile, "all the money I didn't spend on servers, I used to buy up dark fiber in our town," he said, so performance isn't an issue for users and applications connecting to the public cloud; the company has three DS3 connections running into the building and has only had to fail over between them once.

But if Internet access was ever completely down in his building, the business continuity strategy was simple: Go home and access the Internet from there.

Getting to this state required months of planning, and McBride noted that saving money was not the initial objective of the project. Rather, the three-person IT team at AMAG wanted to make its "garden-variety canned infrastructure" consisting of Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory, SharePoint, as well as print and file servers, more Agile. Cloud allows it to better support mergers and acquisitions without hassle and to improve employee productivity.

While cost wasn't a priority, when McBride got to AMAG in 2008, his IT budget was $4.1 million. Today, it's only in the $750,000 to $800,000 range.

One of the thorniest problems of this public cloud migration has been identity and access management, McBride said. The company also almost completely eliminated its Active Directory environment but still needs two-factor authentication and auditing in the cloud.

Instead of Active Directory, end users at AMAG log into Google Apps, which also authenticates them to the cloud. McBride said his goal is to get to what he calls machine-factor authentication, where numbers such as the unspoofable ID of each cell phone handset replace passwords, but he doesn't think that will happen until 2015.

Finance department stays inside the firewall

Most of AMAG has moved to the public cloud, and if McBride had his way, the whole company would be there. But the finance department uses Microsoft Dynamics for enterprise resource planning, which has dependencies on Internet Explorer and LDAP.

"I still have my ten-percenters asking, 'Where's my Outlook?'" McBride said. "None of this has been done without trial and tribulation."

This reflects the overall state of the market: Mission-critical financial applications remain tricky to move to the cloud. For many other companies, the value proposition of going completely to the public cloud is debatable as well.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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