Life Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: LIFE) is a global biotechnology company that is committed to providing the most innovative products and services to leading customers in the fields of scientific research, genetic analysis and applied sciences. With a presence in more than 180 countries, the company's portfolio of 50,000 end-to-end solutions is secured by more than 5,000 patents and licenses that span the entire biological spectrum—scientific exploration, molecular diagnostics, 21st century forensics, regenerative medicine, and agricultural research. Life Technologies has approximately 10,000 employees and had sales of $3.8 billion in 2012.
Life Technologies helps scientists turn biological data from humans, animals, and plants into digital information, making it easier to process, analyze, and share across the scientific community. “Until recently, that work has been done on local PCs,” says Mark Field, CTO and Vice President. “But the amount of data now being generated by computers is massive—you need bigger computing power and bigger storage to get the job done. And there’s more need to communicate with the scientific community. Keeping your data locked up on a PC isn’t the way people want to work anymore.”
Scientists wanted a way to accelerate their research, and Life Technologies decided to enable that by providing a cloud solution. “Cloud computing makes it possible to provide a whole host of services, such as better access to data, mobile tools, and collaboration across geographic boundaries,” Field says. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve created a lot of software—a vast collection of code. By putting this on the cloud, we can design a common look and feel for it, and create an ecosystem of products and technologies for our customers.”
Life Technologies initially planned to build its own cloud, but when a cost analysis revealed that the company would save $325,000 in hardware alone, the company decided to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) instead. “Risk mitigation was a big part of our decision,” Field says. “Switching to AWS was very low-risk—switching was an easy decision.”
The company built a Platform as a Service (PaaS) layer on top of AWS, enabling customers to connect scientific instruments to the cloud, run applications to analyze data, store the data in the cloud, and share results with others.
Life Technologies now performs DNA sequencing on a digital chip that can contain up to 600,000 DNA fragments. The sample is sequenced on the chips and the data that is generated is transferred to the AWS Cloud, where it is analyzed and realigned. “Realignment is a task on par to putting a stack of phone books as high as the Washington Monument into a wood chipper and then reassembling it,” Field says. Generally speaking, sequencing takes a few hours, and analysis takes a few days. “AWS is an enormously powerful tool—work like this requires massive amounts of compute power. Using AWS has given us all the advantages of collaboration, security, storage, and accessibility.”
Life Technologies decided to adopt AWS as its cloud provider in February 2013. By June, the company had built the infrastructure and platform components, trained its team, and launched its first commercial application—all without having to invest in servers, storage, and an IT staff to run a private cloud. “Using AWS helps us deliver simple, easy-to-use tools that enable scientists to make novel discoveries in biology to elucidate the underpinnings to human disease,” Field says. “Using AWS helps us turn biological data into digital data.”
Since migrating to the AWS Cloud, the company has realized cost savings and improvements in time to market. “It used to take us 12 months to deliver a software product. Since moving to the AWS Cloud, we’re now delivering in 4 months, from concept to production,” Field says. “We can scale up or down as our needs change, too. When you run your own data center, you’re constantly trying to keep up with the rising water—always provisioning what you need. With the cloud, you provision what you need, when you need it.”
Using AWS allows Life Technologies customers to build workflows across its suite of applications. “Everything’s in the cloud and all in one place—not sitting in different versions of software and on different PCs,” Field says. “You can build a complete workflow from end to end. We feel that it will revolutionize clinical research.”
Field believes the customer experience has improved as a result of using AWS. “Life Technologies is using the AWS Cloud to deliver far superior user experience than we ever have,” Field says. “Using AWS gives us the engineering opportunity to make our software even more fantastic—it’s helped us change the game.”
By the end of 2013, Life Technologies plans to have 12 applications running on the AWS Cloud—and going forward, the company hopes that all software can be delivered on the cloud. “That to me is tremendous,” Field says. “We’ve changed the entire mindset of the software community at our company.”
To learn more about genomics in the cloud, visit the AWS Genomics details page.