For any industry, scaling up to meet unforeseen demand can be challenging. When that challenge applies not only to production, but also to research in a highly technical or advanced field such as life sciences, the task can be daunting, to say the least.
In 2020, as the extent of what would become the global Covid-19 pandemic became known, the life sciences sector went into overdrive. By scaling up research, mass testing and vaccine production efforts, companies faced the unprecedented challenge of developing new vaccines at a hyper-accelerated pace.
According to a review by McKinsey, what would normally have taken up to 10 years was completed in just one; producing 15 vaccine candidates that received either emergency or full approval for use across continents worldwide.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the development and dissemination of Covid-19 vaccinations captures and catalyzes the hopes of millions or even billions of people around the world. It is a scientific, industrial, regulatory and logistical achievement that will make history , McKinsey says.However, according to Pfizer, this acceleration was only made possible by leveraging critical data infrastructures, those used for data collection, aggregation, processing and analysis, which could enable dynamic cross-country team collaboration, peer review and regulatory oversight.
Infrastructure for life-saving science
The need to rapidly scale such systems, while adopting new infrastructure architectures that ensure processing power is available close to where data is produced and consumed. They as edge computing systems were instrumental in this monumental effort.
In addition, Great Britain and Ireland played crucial roles in this mass effort for the good of all mankind. For example, as a life science hub, Ireland hosts ten of the major global life science companies and represents a further 20 of them. In addition, the UK hosts a host of cutting-edge life sciences and global pharmaceutical organisations, many of which have indigenous roots. McKinsey has called the UK a global leader and “Europe’s leading biotech hub”, which is evident with organizations such as Exscientia, AstraZeneca and BioNTech leading the way in drug discovery and disease prevention.
>See also: BioNTech acquires InstaDeep for £562m to boost drug discovery efforts
Investment also continues apace across both territories. Eli Lilly’s €400 million investment to expand its facility in Limerick, for example, will allow the company to expand its capacity to manufacture innovative new medicines that can help treat some of the world’s most serious diseases.
World leader in genomics
Another important example of life-saving research is the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Based in the UK near Cambridge, the institute uses genomic data to advance the understanding of human DNA. This is a very data-intensive operation, providing genomic data to a variety of healthcare and life sciences organizations, as well as commercial partners.
Computing has always been central to science at Sanger, and the institute relies on genomic sequencing machines capable of producing upwards of 2 TB of data per day. All this must be stored, processed and analyzed locally and made available to other research organisations.
A key component to facilitate the institute is its data center and edge computing capabilities. Sending more than 2 TB of data, per machine per day, back to a central data lake for primary processing would be cumbersome, impractical and expensive. However, the institute hosts its own dedicated infrastructure on site to alleviate this challenge, Europe’s largest genomic data center, and each of its genomic sequencers is protected with distributed power protection equipment including uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).
The volume and speed of data make cloud services unsuitable for the institute’s requirements and mean the physical location of its 4MW data center is critical. The data center serves as an edge computing facility and is where data and mapped genomes are analyzed by the research community and commercial partners based on campus.
The ability to have primary processing power close to where the data is produced is what allows life science organizations like the Institute to do their vital work. The savings made by having reliable and efficient data center infrastructures that can be managed through a single pane of glass will also help the institute reduce its data center operating costs. This in turn means that Sanger can invest more money in research so that new discoveries can be made more quickly.
Data center and the edge
However, edge computing systems must be supported by a robust data center infrastructure that supports the available, reliable and resilient infrastructure – the rapid deployment of which requires rapid solutions and new design approaches.
Prefabricated, modular data centers, filled with the most energy-efficient infrastructure equipment, give life sciences and biotechnology companies the flexibility to place data centers exactly where they need them. The pre-engineered, pre-tested and standardized nature of these technologies also enables the ability to meet compressed deployment times, but with the assurance of resilience from the moment they are operational.
The combination of these advanced computing architectures, combined with the power, scalability, and easy-to-use modular data centers has the power to multiply life sciences efforts toward the scale of vaccine achievements in recent years.
>See also: Trends in data center sustainability
Cyber security at the edge
In fact, edge computing has been cited to address some of the other problems experienced by the life science sector. The value of data and the criticality of pharmaceutical research have made it a particular target for cybercriminals, with ransomware attacks an increasingly common occurrence.
Edge computing has the ability to mitigate the risks associated with healthcare and life sciences, as its ability to process data closer to where it is generated and consumed reduces exposure to attacks through faster detection, a smaller attack surface and faster time to response.
Next-generation software systems that combine the power of the cloud with AI and machine learning capabilities also significantly strengthen cybersecurity. Such tools offer comprehensive insights into critical vulnerabilities, with some able to proactively identify legacy platforms in need of patching and modernization. These comprehensive monitoring and management tools are used across edge computing and data center environments to ensure life science infrastructure systems are secure, resilient, and secure from both downtime and vulnerability.
The contribution of the life sciences to the health and well-being of the global population cannot be underestimated. These organizations continue to demonstrate the ability to step up and perform incredible feats of innovation and protect humanity. Supported by data infrastructures that can match the pace, agility and reliability of the industry, innovation in drug discovery and disease prevention will continue apace. Edge computing, with its unique ability to support the modern needs of life sciences, will ensure that nothing holds back the pace of transformation and that its reach continues to benefit all people on Earth.
Marc Garner is Senior Vice President, Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric Europe.
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