Cancer Research Reaches For The Cloud For Massive Performance Boost

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How modern cloud computing and storage solutions are helping find a cure for cancer

This morning, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) announced the completion of its move to the cloud, resulting in faster, more reliable access to its supporters’ data, donor databases and critical applications on which fundraising and marketing activities depend.

The charity overhauled its IT and implemented a private cloud with EMC and VMware technologies, claiming it benefited from a 30 percent improved storage performance and 30 percent improved storage utilisation.

Fighting the good fight

CRUK realised it needed to move away from a legacy storage environment after its employees started reporting delays in tasks ranging from complex database queries to simple access to email.

Cloud © geometrix Shutterstock 2012These delays and processes prevented the organisation from maximising its resources and helping staff deliver on key projects, including raising funds for research into cancer and government lobbying.

CRUK turned to technology consultancy CAE, which selected a range of services that could help increase efficiency, while not breaking the bank. Following its advice, the charity installed EMC Data Domain deduplication storage systems and EMC NetWorker unified backup and recovery software, to protect approximately 200 terabytes of critical block and file data, including 480 Windows and 300 Linux virtual machines.

It also set up EMC VNX unified storage and VMware vSphere for its virtualised applications, including Siebel, Oracle, Microsoft SQL and Citrix XenDesktop for over 1,200 virtual desktops.

The solution substantially reduced cost and time spent on data backup and disaster recovery, and CRUK expects it to pay for itself in 18 months.

How can it pay for itself in a non-for-profit organisation? “Certainly, from our perspective we look at the amount we get charged versus the amount we can save from taking on particular strategies. We also look at the operational usage, and what it does to increase the productivity of our fundraising and marketing teams. It allows them to do more campaigns, get more people alerted to the things like ‘Race for Life’,”  Michael Briggs, head of infrastructure at Cancer Research UK, told TechWeekEurope.

“There’s a consequential effect on the donations made to the charity, which allow scientists to continue with their fantastic research,” he added.

CRUK also implemented the EMC FAST Suite and enterprise Flash drives to achieve a 30 percent performance improvement. This technology automatically tiers “hot” or active data to Flash, while tiering less active data onto cost-effective, high capacity drives.

However, by far the most promising piece of kit used in CRUK’s two co-located data centres has to be EMC VFCache. VFCache is essentially a big chunk of Flash memory on the PCI-E card. After testing the technology for the first time, Briggs was amazed by the results: “We have run four times the amount of campaigns in a single day than we can currently run, just by plugging this in.”

When implemented, this Flash solution should boost overall infrastructure performance even further. “I am a real evangelist about this technology now,” said Briggs.

“We are very conscious about cost. People donate to the charity and they want to see that money used to fight the good fight. We think very seriously about how we spend our budget, so we could generate more money to cure cancer. We are not the scientists, but we will do whatever we can to support scientific research,” he added.

Back in 2010, Cancer Research was identified as one of the leading mainstream supercomputer users in the UK. Now, the company has upgraded its supporting infratructure, helping improve the chances of finding a cure for cancer in the not-too-distant future.

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