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Cloud-first strategy brings pharma firm to cloud-first backup

With no physical data center at launch, pharma spinout firm Bioverativ went to the cloud first and learned valuable lessons about storage protection and management.

When pharma company Bioverativ adopted a cloud-first strategy as a spinoff in 2017, it had little time to get hundreds of terabytes of data into the public cloud. The move required both a trusted cloud provider and cloud-friendly, on-premises storage for data that could not go to the cloud.

Bioverativ CIO Cate Fagan said when her company spun out of Biogen, it had three months to build out its IT strategy. With no physical data center, it put most of its data into Microsoft Azure.

However, she said around 10% of the company's data must stay on premises. That includes instrument data that cannot go to the cloud because the files are too large, as well as patient data that must remain on premises for compliance.

Bioverativ has Nutanix hyper-converged appliances and Dell EMC Isilon NAS devices for on-premises data, and it uses Rubrik's Cloud Data Management converged secondary storage for both on-premises and cloud backup.

'Our infrastructure did not exist'

Bioverativ came about in early 2017 when Biogen, based in Cambridge, Mass., spun off its hemophilia drug business. The break was clean, as the new company -- Bioverativ -- set up new headquarters in nearby Waltham, Mass. The Bioverativ IT team had three months to get its data off of Biogen storage and into its own data center or the cloud.

"We were a truly cloud-first organization," Fagan said. "Our infrastructure, at the time, did not exist. We had no place to put a data center. We were still building it out when we moved in. So, the cloud was a matter of convenience to get us up and running, as well as it being a trend."

To make the move more efficiently, Bioverativ brought data on hard drives to a disaster recovery site in northern Virginia. From there, it transported the data to cloud sites around the world.

The cloud-first strategy also provided Bioverativ with flexibility. The company acquired True North Therapeutics months after spinning out from Biogen, and then it was acquired itself by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi for $11.6 billion at the start of 2018. Bioverativ is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Sanofi. Having most of its data in the cloud helped make those integrations go smoothly, Fagan said.

The mergers and acquisitions leave Fagan's IT team five sites with infrastructure -- data centers in Waltham, San Francisco, Japan, Australia and Canada.

Bioverativ runs Microsoft Office 365, Oracle Fusion, SAP SuccessFactors human resources management and other applications in the cloud. Fagan said around five of the company's 60-plus apps run on premises.

Bioverativ already had Isilon for file storage before the spinout, and it added Nutanix for virtual machine storage and Rubrik for backup when it spun out. Fagan said Rubrik's ability to provide cloud backup, as well as on-premises data protection, was a big selling point. Bioverativ has Rubrik appliances in four sites.

She said Rubrik also helps meet low recovery time objectives, and its appliances can be deployed quickly. Rubrik appliances integrate well with Nutanix appliances and protect software-as-a-service apps such as Office 365.

"We were looking for the ability to use as much of the cloud as we could," she said. "And Rubrik fit that bill."

Fagan said Bioverativ installed Rubrik in the San Francisco office it gained from the True North acquisition, helping to make it a speedy and secure integration.

"We were very keen to the amount of intellectual property that could be at risk if people weren't thrilled that we purchased another company," she said. "We had to secure all the IP as fast as we could. We quickly mounted in the data center, got Rubrik installed and backed up everything. We made sure everything was protected across the board."

Lessons learned from cloud-first IT

Fagan said she and her team learned valuable lessons from its cloud-first strategy. For example, the cloud is more expensive than people think, and it still requires IT expertise -- just a different type. She said Bioverativ's IT team expanded from 26 full-time employees at launch to 46 today.

People think it's less money to go to the cloud, and it's not. You still need people to manage the cloud, you still need people to back up the cloud, and you still need expertise in those areas.
Cate FaganCIO, Bioverativ

"It's still a lot to manage," she said of a cloud-first IT organization. "People think it's less money to go to the cloud, and it's not. You still need people to manage the cloud, you still need people to back up the cloud, and you still need expertise in those areas. Sometimes, that skill set is hard to find.

"Another problem is governance. Identity and access becomes a much bigger issue than you normally see. You have to watch data outside your walls more closely. The reporting that comes out of the cloud is stellar, but you have to go through it all. You have to keep an eye on things a lot more."

She said even Opex costs can run higher than expected when using the public cloud.

"Every CFO mandates, 'We have to go to the cloud because it's cheaper. We don't need on-prem.' But they get a little sticker shock when they start to see that recurring monthly revenue. They don't think that, if you have 200 people today, that's your Opex. If you double head count tomorrow, your Opex doubles, too. Those are the things that were challenges for us.

"But we kept a tight wrap on how much we use in the cloud and how much it would cost and what we kept on-prem. There was a strong desire to continue with that cloud-first strategy; it's what the industry is warranting now. We also have a lot of people who want to work from home, and the cloud really helps with that."

She said Bioverativ chose Azure because it had a long-standing relationship with Microsoft.

"Azure has done a good job for life sciences, especially in accommodating the biotech companies," she said.

Still, Fagan said she watches AWS, Google and other public clouds to watch for better pricing or applications that would fit Bioverativ's needs.

"We look at what can help our scientists with their next successful scientific experiment, their next successful drug launch," she said. "That's really our ultimate goal."

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