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Accelrys’ ScienceCloud Offers Route to Cloud Computing, Collaboration


By Allison Proffitt 
 
March 3, 2014 | On the heels of its acquisition announcement, Accelrys launched the ScienceCloud last month, a SaaS-based information management and collaboration workspace hosted by BT Global (see, “The British Are Coming: Connecting People and Patients”), so far using BT’s datacenters in the UK and New Jersey. 
 
The goal of the ScienceCloud is to connect global collaborators through, “social scientific collaboration,” explained Matt Hahn, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Accelrys. 
 
Some of the fundamental drivers of the project, Hahn said, were needs for a really comprehensive solution right out of the gate; for collaboration across the globe regardless of time zone, or language; and for design that encompassed mobile technologies, social and unified communication, and big data analytics from the beginning. 
 
“Most companies still… exchange data with their partners via email or e-rooms that are not scientifically aware. And a lot of our customers still have legacy systems that they try to expose to their partners, typically via VPN. We believe that long term this is just not a viable approach.”
 
ScienceCloud is starting with five applications, though Hahn expects the company to add a new application “probably every couple of months”.
 
The applications cover project communication and collaboration (built out of Accelrys’ HEOS acquisition); an electronic lab notebook (built out of Accelrys’ acquisition of Contour); Pipeline Pilot; a system for mobile connectivity that includes a Mobile Data Capture App just announced this morning; and the ScienceCloud Exchange, an app store to let customers publish and share services. 
 
“For example, a company that uses an IDBS notebook on premises may be adopting the ScienceCloud for its partners and they want a service that can take the data from the ScienceCloud and push it into their ELN,” Hahn explained. “That kind of service is pre-competitive in nature… so they could publish it into the ScienceCloud Exchange—analogous to the Apple App Store.”
 
ScienceCloud is designed to facilitate moving data back and forth between on premises systems—even if they aren’t Accelrys systems—and the collaborative ScienceCloud environment. 
 
“The idea of being able to transfer information between my partners in a seamless way would be great if everyone was using the same system, the same tools, but that’s not the case today,” Hahn said. “When we built the system, it was really intended to facilitate that exchange of information both between partners all in the cloud, and also on-prem systems and systems that are in the cloud.”
 
The same flexibility applies to business rules as well. 
 
“Every company has business rules that they apply… and there are hundreds of these kinds of rules that are applied across business processes. So we needed to design a system that allowed each company to have its own specific rules applied to how they dealt with data coming from partners,” Hahn said. “It’s very difficult to everyone have their own proprietary systems on-prem, but to have it all hosted in the cloud introduces a level of complexity and sophistication that’s not been available.” 
Of course there are advantages for companies that are already Accelrys customers. Pipeline Pilot and other products exist in the cloud and as more traditional offerings. Pipeline Pilot, in particular, serves as the primary means by which technology is transferred between companies and their partners whether in the cloud or on premises.
 
For existing Accelrys customers, the dual offerings will ease a transition to the Cloud, a migration that Hahn believes is inevitable. Having the same system available in the cloud, means that when companies are ready to “flip the switch”, their work should look and feel “essentially the same”, Hahn said.  
 
“We needed to be able to provide an environment that maps to the stage of measured migration to the cloud that all of our companies are going to go through. Part of the design of the science cloud is to facilitate that evolution.” 
 
Contrary to those who express security concerns about cloud collaboration, Hahn sees ScienceCloud as a way to increase security when working with partners. 
 
“If you’re setting up a an externalized partnership with a CRO in China, and you’re expecting that project to only last six months, I can fire up that project in hours, rather than have any on-site or on-prem stuff that I might need to configure over days,  weeks, or months. On the other hand, that project may only run for six months, and I need to be able to turn it down, or turn off that part because I don’t want them seeing my data or participating in my project any longer.” 
 
The environment also conforms to ISO standards, Hahn said. 
 
Accelrys is not limiting the ScienceCloud to the life sciences space, though for the first year development will focus there. Large pharma and biotechs will be the intended customer targets the first six months, and the second half of the year the solution will be marketed to CROs. 
 
In the second year, Hahn says the company will reach out to smaller or new companies and propose that they forego any on-premises informatics and start with ScienceCloud. “You can start as soon as you get your funding,” Hahn said. “No IT; no hardware.” 
 
The payment model has been varied, Hahn said, of the beta testers’ experience and intent. It’s indicative of the market’s immaturity, he contends. 
 
Some customers purchase the solution and pay for short term licenses for their partners. Other customers have paid for their own licenses and expected their CROs to pay for their own as well. If both parties are already users, no one buys any new licenses, but instead start new projects together. 
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