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Elsevier Uses AWS to Empower Researchers to Accelerate COVID-19 Research

2020

As a global leader in information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes. In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company wanted to make 15 leading biomedical and clinical research products free and accessible to global researchers developing solutions to the novel coronavirus. “We immediately wanted to help the research community with our products that are used by the life sciences industry for drug research and development,” says Olaf Lodbrok, senior vice president for precision medicine at Elsevier.

Using Amazon Web Services (AWS), Elsevier launched the Elsevier Coronavirus Research Hub in just 6 weeks. The company used Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud, to enable the portal to scale for any volume of users. And using other secure AWS services, such as Elastic Load Balancing and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), which enable customers to take their solutions to production faster, the portal quickly met Elsevier’s governance standards.

Taking Advantage of Agility on AWS

Elsevier has evolved from a publisher of books to a provider of information-analytics solutions and digital tools in life sciences research and development, strategic research management, research and development performance, clinical decision support, and professional education. Elsevier chose AWS as its primary cloud provider in 2013 when it migrated its regional self-hosted, on-premises infrastructure. Now, 95 percent of Elsevier applications are hosted on AWS. Since 2013, Elsevier has been refactoring its applications to be cloud native in order to take advantage of the advanced services AWS offers. “For a software-as-a-service provider, the ability to be agile and react to changes in customer trends and demands is critical,” says Michael Lebiedzinski, vice president of technology, infrastructure, and operations at Elsevier.

Elsevier took advantage of the agility that AWS offers in order to rapidly deploy the Elsevier Coronavirus Research Hub. Launching the portal required Elsevier to scale for a potential spike in traffic and make its coronavirus-related data and content available to customers. The research hub also needed to act as an umbrella interface for all of Elsevier’s products, including ScienceDirect—the leading platform of peer-reviewed literature—and Mendeley Data—which enables users to discover, collect, share, and publish COVID-19 research data. For example, a scientist or researcher may need to access data and content spread across five or six different applications, so the research hub would need to act as an entry point to all of them. And whereas each product usually has its own form of authentication, the research hub would need to offer a single sign-on. “We’ve never put a portal in front of so many discrete applications,” says Lebiedzinski. “We had to figure out the qualification process since the hub is open only to qualified researchers.” Additionally, some applications support multitenancy while others do not, so Elsevier had to establish a separate instance to support the research hub. “We did not know if there were going to be 1,000 or 10,000 scientists using the hub,” says Lebiedzinski. “So the ability to automatically scale on AWS to meet that need was critically important to us.”

Launching a Scalable Research Hub on AWS in 6 Weeks

Elsevier used a variety of AWS services to bring the Elsevier Coronavirus Research Hub from ideation to production in just 6 weeks. Since launch, it has seen a wide range of users, from individual researchers to hospitals, universities, and research and development organizations. The portal uses Amazon DynamoDB to store critical data relevant to the qualifications of the research hub’s customers. Amazon DynamoDB is a key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance at any scale; it’s a fully managed, multiregion, multimaster, durable database with built-in security, backup and restore, and in-memory caching for internet-scale applications.

Elsevier created a three-phase plan to onboard its applications to the database. The first phase moved the easiest applications, or the ones with the fastest time to market, and the second migrated the next set of applications. The third phase will involve onboarding the most challenging machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. “Those are a little trickier because scientists may not have a straightforward user interface interaction with them,” says Lebiedzinski.

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The response to the research hub was a lot more than we had anticipated, so the ability to scale using Amazon EC2 was really important.”

Michael Lebiedzinski
Vice President of Technology, Infrastructure, and Operations, Elsevier

Elsevier also took advantage of AWS services for application load balancing. For example, the company uses Amazon EC2 and Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), an easy-to-use, high-performance block storage service designed for use with Amazon EC2 for both throughput- and transaction-intensive workloads at any scale. Amazon EC2’s ability to quickly and automatically scale in concert with Elastic Load Balancing enabled the Elsevier solution to grow as customers were onboarded. “The response to the research hub was a lot more than we had anticipated,” says Lebiedzinski, “so the ability to scale using Amazon EC2 was really important.” The provisioning process on AWS was dramatically reduced because Elsevier had implemented infrastructure as code and immutable infrastructure, in which no modification to a running server can be made unless the server is replaced with a new instance that has the necessary changes.

On AWS, the research hub not only launched quickly but also passed Elsevier’s technology review, which checks that Elsevier standards are met and operational controls are in place. “That was amazing because there are lots of projects that are months in the making that don’t do as well in our review process,” explains Lebiedzinski, noting that AWS enables covered entities and their business associates subject to HIPAA requirements to use the secure AWS environment to process, maintain, and store protected health information. “The research hub is a great example of how AWS accelerates our governance. We have peace of mind knowing that an environment deployed on AWS is secure. It’s just one less thing to worry about, and it enabled us to focus on other things that were important,” Lebiedzinski says.

Using AWS Tools to Rise to the Occasion

Elsevier plans to continue to add more feature-, content-, and data-rich applications to the Elsevier Coronavirus Research Hub. It is also soliciting feedback from the scientist users of the research hub to learn what additional tools they would like to see on the portal.

Taking advantage of the agility of AWS, Elsevier quickly launched a portal that met the specific needs of its users during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping smooth the developmental process of potential solutions for the virus. “There’s an investment that’s necessary to get the benefits of a cloud-native environment,” says Lebiedzinski. “But once you make that investment, the payback is enormous. And the ability to set up something in 6 weeks is a testament to that.”


About Elsevier

As a global leader in information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes. Operating globally, Elsevier is part of RELX.

Benefits of AWS

  • Took the Elsevier Coronavirus Research Hub from ideation to production in 6 weeks
  • Passed Elsevier’s governance tests quickly
  • Scales to meet unpredictable traffic

AWS Services Used

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud.

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Amazon Dynamo DB

Amazon DynamoDB is a key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance at any scale.

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Amazon Elastic Block Store

Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) is an easy to use, high performance block storage service designed for use with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) for both throughput and transaction intensive workloads at any scale.

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Elastic Load Balancing

Elastic Load Balancing automatically distributes incoming application traffic across multiple targets, such as Amazon EC2 instances, containers, IP addresses, Lambda functions, and virtual appliances.

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