Michael Miller, senior director at Pfizer Global Research and Development, said that his firm had embraced Amazon Web Services (AWS) only after the advent of Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) service, which walls off resources from the public Internet. He said that it was a good choice for compute-heavy workloads, as long as it remained firmly under Pfizer's thumb.
"Compliance is the bugbear. Does it actually allow us to deploy with the policies we've set?" he said. The answer was yes, but only in AWS VPC, and only after Amazon took pains to get a rigorous SAS 70 Type II certification and an extensive "cultural dialogue" with internal auditors.
"One of the things that was very useful was the SAS 70 report; we've also gone through several audits on our side and their side," Miller said. He added that auditors had to get used to virtualization technology before being able to successfully clear Pfizer's AWS operations.
He said Pfizer had built custom Amazon Machine Images, from the kernel up, so that it could verify integrity at every level; that kind of detail took the place of verifying hardware and physical integrity.
"We had to work with [auditors] to adjust their expectations…no, you don't get 'this chip, that box, that disk,'" he said. Instead, they get code review and kernel versions. Now that the heavy lifting is done, Miller guessed that Pfizer now consumes about 80% of CPU work on new projects in AWS, which makes up about 50% of total workload.
The Pfizer director also said there were limitations to what his company would run on Amazon. Any older applications were tied to hardware, and sensitive data would probably never leave the firm's networks. Miller did say there were significant operational savings, something other panelists agreed with.
"It's a 20% to 30% decrease in our cost over building a data center and depreciating it over time," said Joseph Galarneau, CIO and SVP of Operations for Newsweek magazine. He said the move into Amazon was a fresh start for Newsweek's online operations, which had been channeling media content through various partners and outlets like MSNBC.com and Newsweek owner The Washington Post.
A decision had been made to launch Newsweek on its own platform, so Galarneau got started with a entirely new, cloud-friendly content management application and ditched his mess of old systems. That was a primary reason he was able to move into AWS, he said, because he could leave so much behind and start over fresh. Galarneau also said he had to get used to using AWS; it wasn't a cut-and-dried co-lo server or an outsourced service.
"They kind of give you a box of parts," he said, pieces that his team had to put together.
Amazon's enterprise dealings
Amazon still does not have industry-standard enterprise agreements with its customers, but apparently it's a hot topic.
"They understand they're [now] dealing with enterprises, it's just that they don't have the years of experience in dealing with them, like IBM or somebody," Galarneau said. He also said Newsweek and Amazon were in negotiations with AWS, but couldn't hazard a guess as to what the agreement might look like or when it might be finished.
"When are we going to see core enterprise applications moving out on to the cloud? Answer me that," said Hossur R. Srikantan, CIO at IT management consultancy Rav Tek. He said the answer was "probably never" and said he's tired of hearing the same story. Srikantan said the basic market for cloud computing infrastructure services was well established and unlikely to change. "It's been 'day one' in the cloud for two, three years now," he said.
Srikantan said major enterprises would take cloud services for non-critical areas, but to him the panel was a perfect example of what was already known about cloud.
"Take Newsweek -- they are in a transitional model," he said, and a Web-based, digital media product, so they were very good candidates for using cloud computing. Pfizer was doing R&D on Amazon, but that was a well-established use case, and another presenter, 650-employee QlikTech, was a Web application company more than anything else.
"Are they a Web service? Or cloud service?" Srikantan asked. "Does it matter?"
Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.