An Anglo/Dutch company, Unilever is a global company with more than 400 individual brands sold in 180 countries. Today, the company’s product line covers all facets of daily life, from food to cleaning to health and well-being. Within Unilever, the Research and Development department includes over 6,000 specialists stationed in twenty countries throughout the world.
Unilever’s technology partner, Eagle Genomics, is a bioinformatics services and software company. Founded in 2008, Eagle specializes in genomic data analysis and open-source solutions. In addition to Unilever, the company’s clients include pharmaceutical, crop science, and biotechnical enterprises.
The Business Challenges
Unilever Research and Development recently began an eScience program intended to accelerate the company’s scientific progress through improved access to global information. The program promotes the usage of public data for the benefit of biology and informatics research.
Due to the exponential growth of the biology and informatics fields, Unilever needs to maintain this new program within a highly-scalable environment that supports parallel computation and heavy data storage demands.
Why Amazon Web Services
According to Pete Keeley, Unilever Researchs eScience IT Lead for Cloud Solutions, the company considered Eagle Genomics’ prior experiences with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and ultimately settled on AWS architecture for several reasons. The desired “global reach via Availability Zones; clear policies regarding security; very rapid innovation introducing new technical features to the market, such as Amazon Elastic MapReduce; and a size that helps to ensure any large technical glitches or outages will be solved extremely quickly.”
The program relies on large Amazon EC2 instances for processing, while Amazon RDS stores the computation results. Amazon S3 buckets maintain non-relational data as it migrates between various instances. As the program grows, Unilever and Eagle plan to add the Amazon Import/Export service to accelerate large data transfers.
Eagle manages Unilever’s AWS resources with eHive, a Perl-based open-source workflow software system. eHive utilizes Amazon APIs as it starts and stops instances based on current workloads in relation to AWS’s on-demand pricing structure. Richard Holland, Eagle’s Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer, explains, “This dynamic scaling enables us to pare compute costs down to their absolute minimum.”
The Business Benefits
Richard Holland goes on to say, “The key advantage that AWS has over running this workflow on Unilever’s existing cluster is the ability to scale up to a much larger number of parallel compute nodes on demand.” Pete Keeley adds, “Unilever’s digital data program now processes genetic sequences twenty times faster—without incurring higher compute costs. In addition, its robust architecture supports ten times as many scientists, all working simultaneously.”
The growth of biology and informatics knowledge shows no signs of slowing. Unilever believes that its partnership with Eagle Genomics and AWS will keep the company’s scientists at the forefront of these expanding fields. Unilever’s Pete Keeley notes, “Amazon is developing the AWS platform at a speed that is market-leading and at a pace that will allow us to deliver our vision in the cloud so that technology will not be the barrier to our success.”
To learn more, visit http://www.unilever.com/ .
Added March 5, 2012