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Pharma firm bans non-SAAS apps

IT exec at AMAG Pharmaceuticals turns blank slate into empty data center

By , Network World
April 04, 2011 12:08 AM ET

Network World - Nathan McBride

Ping-pong table, fridge, firewall.

If all goes according to plan, that's all you'll find in AMAG Pharmaceuticals' data center by year's end.

"That's my legit goal. We figure that's the best use of the data center by that point," says Nathan McBride, executive director of IT at the Lexington, Mass., company.

Public cloud vs. private cloud: Why not both?

AMAG's IT needs are more efficiently and cost effectively served by public cloud providers, including infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS), than by internal systems and applications, McBride says.

Chasing the perfect cloud

When McBride arrived at AMAG three years ago, his task was to build the growing company's IT department and infrastructure in the cloud. Except for one Microsoft Exchange server sitting, literally, in a broom closet, he had no legacy systems with which to contend.

"Of course I jumped at the opportunity - no red tape, a blank slate, this is every IT person's dream," McBride says. (See Where to start with public cloud computing.)

After hiring a staff of four, he and his team began crafting the company's IT future.

"With one floor of this 12-story building all to ourselves, we had so much room for growth and so many different ways we could have gone. But, as not to repeat the mistakes of the past, I knew I wanted to get the entire company to the cloud as soon as possible," McBride says.

The cloud's potential had long been on McBride's mind, he says. "Back in 2005-2006, Salesforce.com was taking things by storm and a lot of other companies were starting to develop SaaS approaches, too. At about the same time, Amazon Web Services [AWS] came out with cheap storage to accommodate the SaaS profile - although nobody knew quite what to do with it at that point," he says.

THE PRIVATE SIDE: Cancer center builds Texas-sized cloud

Coming to AMAG gave him the opportunity to put his thoughts into action. The problem was, when he presented his three-year cloud vision to corporate management, he had to leave a lot of boxes blank, McBride says. "We knew what we wanted, but we couldn't find companies to support everything yet."

The business, of course, couldn't wait.

Pumping iron

As the company was developing its first product, Feraheme, a therapeutic iron compound for treating iron deficiency anemia, it began ramping up its employee base. When McBride joined the company in January 2008, he was employee No. 72. That number has more than tripled, to roughly 250 today, he says.

For IT, AMAG's growth meant supplementing the cloud vision with actual infrastructure.

"We spent as little as we had to, and only where necessary, to make way for things like storing e-mail and files as we grew, making sure we had backup systems in place and taking care of security," McBride says.

A turning point in terms of product availability came in the first quarter of 2010. "We weren't having philosophical discussions any more but instead were saying, 'How soon can we get so and so in here to tell us about its 1.0 product?" McBride recalls.

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