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By Russ Kennedy
More than ever, pharmaceutical companies have to collaborate efficiently across research and development centers, manufacturing facilities and regulatory management hubs. However, critical research and manufacturing processes can generate terabytes of unstructured data. This information needs to be shared quickly and securely in order to bring to market vital medications that can improve and even save lives.
This can put considerable stress on what has traditionally been siloed storage hardware and network bandwidth. To support unstructured data sharing, IT must add more storage, then bring in expensive networking capabilities. While predicting storage needs isn’t easy, failing to keep up can severely impact business and research progress. Delays caused by transferring research files and manufacturing data over a wide area network (WAN) are unacceptable and dramatically hamper a company’s ability to compete.
What’s more, the traditional approach can significantly strain backup and disaster recovery (DR) plans. Large data sets are difficult to back up within a reasonable amount of time, yet the protection is imperative. DR for research file infrastructure is also expensive to create and test. However, even more costly is the inability for users to access data during an outage, a tab that can quickly grow to millions of dollars.
Taking to the cloud
Major and progressive pharmaceutical companies are now solving unstructured data storage, sharing and security issues with the cloud. They’re doing so by consolidating file data in cloud object storage — Microsoft Azure Blob Storage, Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage — instead of trapping it in silos, on-premises file servers or network-attached storage (NAS).
With device constraints removed, cloud object storage offers limitless, scalable capacity at lower costs than on-premises storage. Every facility and research site can not only benefit from “bottomless” storage, frequently accessed files can also be retrieved with the speed of local-area networks (LAN). Additionally, by deploying small footprint, local appliances that can cache active files on-premises, that same fast, local access is assured.
Backing up to move ahead
Cloud file storage can eliminate the need for traditional backup and constraints of the backup window. Automated snapshots at regularly scheduled intervals can enable files or data volumes to be restored to virtually any point in time. As a result, pharma and healthcare organizations can avoid the steep costs of traditional backup software, media servers, tapes and archival storage.
This can reduce recovery point objectives (RPOs) to minutes, and recovery can take only seconds, regardless of file size. This assures access and companies can experience far greater uptime, ensuring business and research continues to progress.
The same applies to recovery during a disaster, and if you think they don’t happen, consider the effects brought about by COVID-19. A site outage, regional or distributed disaster can cause expensive hiccups. With the cloud, every location can be up and running in as little as 15 minutes. Should a site go down — or ransomware impacts all of a company’s sites — you can get a new instance of that site quickly and efficiently. And that also includes files that were being worked on, permissions and capacity.
Secure and in sync
Cloud storage must protect files end-to-end – in-use, in-transit and when stored – with military-grade encryption. Files should be encrypted and controlled with keys only held by the customer. While this particular cloud file storage feature isn’t widely available, it’s proving extremely valuable to pharma and healthcare companies who need to meet HIPAA and other regulatory compliance measures.
The cloud can further accelerate collaboration and research by synchronizing files across all sites, supported by a single gold copy of every file version. This technology can reduce transfer times for large files from hours to minutes, even seconds. With all sites able to access the latest copy of every file, duplication and further time savings result. Additionally, some solutions have been designed to ensure that two people, regardless of their location, cannot edit a file at the same time, putting an end to version conflicts.
It’s all about uptime, speed and savings. Cloud file storage can accelerate research and collaboration to develop desperately needed new medications faster. Further, all users enjoy uptime and reliability, while simplifying problem resolution for already exhausted IT teams. And with up to 50% savings over NAS and backup solutions, the financial benefits aren’t lost on those in areas like operations and finance.
Pharma companies are attaining new heights by driving research and collaboration via the power of the cloud. Just remember, not all solutions are built the same, so be sure to evaluate those that check the right boxes, supported by providers with longevity in the space and a proven ability to deliver results.
Russ Kennedy is chief product officer at Nasuni, which provides a file services platform built for the cloud. Before Nasuni, Kennedy directed product strategy at Cleversafe through its $1.3 billion acquisition by IBM. Earlier in his career, Russ served in a variety of product management and development roles, most notably at StorageTek (acquired by Sun Microsystems), where he brought several industry-leading products to market. An avid cyclist and hiker, Kennedy resides in Boulder, Colorado with his family. He has a BS degree in Computer Science from Colorado State University and an MBA degree from the University of Colorado.