Cloud migrations: Pharma CIO shares best practices, pitfalls

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Nathan McBride, CIO of Amag Pharmaceuticals, sought to become one of the first biotech companies to move fully to the cloud model, and he was able to achieve this goal in 2010 – just as the cloud trend was taking off. Since the migration, Amag has enjoyed a 60 percent reduction in spending and a significant increase in innovation, functionality, and scalability, with no loss of performance. 

This week, McBride will share his cloud experience during a panel at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, taking place May 24 in Cambridge, MA. His session, "Navigating the Clouds," will offer insights into the promises, pitfalls, and best practices around cloud migrations. In this sneak peek, McBride shares a few with us. 

CIO_Q and A

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Why were you so bullish on being one of the first biotech companies to move to the cloud model?

McBride: I came to AMAG in January of 2008 with a mission to dismantle the data center and eliminate Microsoft from a high compute commercial environment. We were able to achieve full cloud transition by Q3 of 2010, and we utilized both public and private clouds to achieve the mission. We are bullish on the point for multiple reasons including the fact that we got a multi-year jump on the market and have been able to utilize the cloud benefits to our advantage both clinically and commercially, while much of the industry is still trying to create a plan for migration. We were told time and time again that you could not move a regulated industry into the cloud, but time and time again, we found novel and innovative ways to satisfy or improve our compliance efforts by utilizing the power of the cloud.  

TEP: What are a few key lessons from that experience that you wish you had known when you started your cloud journey? 

We were told time and time again that you could not move a regulated industry into the cloud, but time and time again, we found novel and innovative ways to satisfy or improve our compliance efforts by utilizing the power of the cloud.  

McBride: To say that I wish I had known something does not apply. I simply did not know anything about the cloud. You did not even hear the word cloud as a general term until late 2010/early 2011. I saw a hole opening up in the industry and took a large gamble – and for that, I would not change a thing. We had to turn over every rock to find vendors who would work with us. This was primarily because so few of them had products that were actually in production! We had so many meetings with companies that consisted of a CEO and two or three developers, and we partnered with any of them that could understand our vision and had a vision that aligned with ours. Many of these companies are now very profitable public companies that we still work with to this day.  

TEP: The results of your migration are quite impressive. What are you most proud of and why? And did your results sync with what you expected?

McBride: We are most proud that by 2009, we had the ability to support a 330-person company with only four staff, myself included. We discovered that we could be a virtual business inside the business and act as a cloud brokerage firm, enabling anyone with innovative ideas to realize them at a fraction of the cost of traditional IT.

We created a world where VPNs, local administrative passwords, GPOs, strict firewall controls, extreme IT budget entropy, etc. do not exist. You show up on day one, get a laptop of your choice, and immediately get to work. This precisely syncs with our vision of a ubiquitous and extensible cloud framework which, with Google at the epicenter, allows us to plug and play with any SaaS platform of choice to solve almost any problem.

TEP: During your MIT Sloan CIO Symposium panel, you’ll discuss the promise and pitfalls of cloud migrations. Briefly, can you share one of each with readers? 

McBride: I will share a couple. You will fail if you try and do lift and shift into the cloud for all of your platforms. You will succeed if you build a perfect cloud world and move your data in once it is built. You will fail if you do not have governance in place to handle the tremendous growth you will experience. You will succeed if you harness the innovation that you will experience and place a framework around it for use and exploration.

We continuously realize new benefits for the cloud, even after all of these years. It is at the point where there are so many possible ideas it is almost too difficult to know which to select to accomplish a task. You must be careful, however, when selecting SaaS platforms as it is no longer a guarantee that your vendor of choice will make it past a second round of funding. So it is key to understand and partner with them on roadmap development and alignment. Do not just buy the platform!

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  



I'm interested in your comment that your mission was to "Eliminate Microsoft". Do you still see Microsoft as the enemy now that the software giant has embraced the cloud?