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Aspera on Life with IBM, and Bio-IT World Expo Plans


April 10, 2014 | IBM’s acquisition of Aspera closed in January. The morning of the close, Aspera’s CEO and co-founder, Michelle Munson, said she expected the company’s focus and leadership to stay much the same.   
 
Now, a few months later, Bio-IT World caught up with Munson, a Bio-IT World Conference & Expo speaker and exhibitor* to hear the latest on life at Big Blue and what’s new in Aspera’s pipeline. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation. 
 
Bio-IT World: What have the last few months looked like for you? How is the integration with IBM going?  
 
Munson: Honestly it's been pretty fantastic; “it” meaning the life of Aspera after becoming part of IBM Software, particularly in the life sciences area because IBM has a very strong… presence and has a lot to offer customers and it has expanded opportunities for us. 
 
I have been exposed to several major medical and research institutions as well as what we would call commercial life sciences companies in the last month and a half, and we've had the chance to present our software broadly, both from on premise and on cloud deployments.
 
In terms of the acquisition, I think [it is] really elevating the opportunity and placement of Aspera, giving us a chance to be exposed in a pretty big way to a number of new opportunities... We were able to immediately deploy our software on the SoftLayer cloud, like I thought we would. And we also of course run it and have many of the current release advancements on Amazon and some of the other cloud platforms. 
 
I think the way to think about Aspera's side of IBM is as part of a software federation. These innovations are part of the Aspera core product line. These are areas not only that we started but that we're leading and developing… We were intentionally added to lead and drive in this area and bring this to IBM.
 
There aren't direct overlaps. But what there is going on—as I'm sure you would imagine—is the integration into core IBM products to enable the transport capabilities within those. And I think the customers and users in this area will see that in a number of different ways, in many different IBM products and analytics engines. 
 
Probably most interesting to people thinking about the future is the data analytics expertise that IBM has in addition to SoftLayer's cloud. Those two together represent a large part of the IBM Software strategy and our software is, first of all not only integrated into the SoftLayer cloud, but is a fundamental way to get data between  nodes. 
 
Right now, the customer can run it himself on top of SoftLayer or use one of our applications hosting and managed by us directly there. I think that's going to become more fundamental and available in general over time. The other piece… is there is an obvious need to get data to and from the Watson engine, wherever it might be, both on premises and in cloud, and our software is a great way to do that. 
And then there are also more traditional products from IBM such as in the managed file transfer area where just enabling the FASP protocol is a real benefit. These things are obviously going on right now and I know IBM will be making those things more public as they come to general release. 
 
What can the crowd at the Bio-IT World Expo expect to see from Aspera? What are you current areas of focus? 
 
Transfer capability:  
 
We've continued to be pushed and continue to advance the integration of the transport with object storage for high performance, large file, large sets of file transfers with every major cloud platform and in this release we added Google Storage officially, OpenStack Swift officially and Akamai NetStorage officially. OpenStack is the clustered object storage that SoftLayer supports in their environment, which is IBM's cloud. And of course, we already supported Amazon S3 and the Azure Cloud Storage. 
 
We spend our engineering time making the transfer capability truly equivalent in capability to what you would do against more traditional storage, which is used and deployed on-premises. So you can have, for instance, transfers of any size data up to the maximum size the cloud can support. You can guarantee resumability, encryption on the wire and at rest, and a seamless user experience. And that's a big deal with the access control. 
 
Secure architecture:  
 
Our architecture allows for—even on the cloud—only a person or a process with the intended credentials to get access to those files or objects and only perform whatever operations are allowed.
 
That security model works against the native security credentials with the cloud storage without the user doing anything. The user can just open the browser or Aspera Drive and what they see is what they have access to. And that works across these different platforms without changing the user experience. It also works on the backend with authentication systems like SAML and that matters a lot to these larger organizations, both commercial and academic. 
 
So that architecture is the key theme that allows for the files or the content data to be stored wherever it need be and then to be accessed and transferred in a seamless manner but with privacy and security and in uniform performance across these different environments.
 
Aspera auto-scaling platform: 
 
A new capability that we will be showing at Bio-IT is an auto-scaling platform for our software, a software engine that allows Aspera server software to self-manage in a cluster. It scales up and down automatically the number of instances running, any instances that are available to clients for transfer capabilities based on load. 
 
The approach can run on any of the major cloud environments. At Bio-IT World, we'll be showing it on AWS and on SoftLayer. The same approach can also be used to manage a cluster of [virtual machines] on premises. 
 
The reason this matters, this platform is so fundamental is it accommodates the elastic scaling types of use cases where there may be a burst of transfer need for a time. Then that goes back down and then they need to manage that efficiently in a cloud environment and to do it automatically without a human being intervening. 
 
This innovation has been driven by some of our largest customers and I can definitely say that in the life sciences area there are a number of use cases involving those data migrations as well as the end user upload, download and access to scientific archives that drives this kind of situation. It also allows our customer base to be very economically efficient when they're using these cloud environments because they're only running as many instances as needed at a time and it's managed in a very fine timescale. 
 
Aspera Sync:  
 
We just had a major release of the Aspera Sync Engine, Version 1.5, with a lot of new features. One of the new capabilities we'll be showing at Bio-IT World is sync directly to and from S3 storage and other object storage platforms. That comes into play when you want to migrate datasets, or want to replace an rsync workflow. This will also be very interesting in taking content to and from the Akamai distribution network, for example, where the Aspera transport is now supported. And that expands the sync capabilities beyond just enterprise storage. 
 
Intel demonstration:  
 
You might have seen our work in providing our software in appliance forms with Intel in the past… That has advanced into a third phase, which is pretty exciting. We will be demonstrating our software on the latest Intel hardware, taking advantage now not only of the what's called the Intel DPDK which is the specific Intel technology for high performance packet I/O in the hardware, but also the encryption optimization that goes along with that in the latest Intel hardware. And that allows for the Aspera transfer engine to be delivered as an for achieving massive throughput—sort of 40 gigabit per second transfers and above—on standard off-the-shelf Intel server hardware at a modest cost, which is really targeted at applications like life sciences where you could have a lot of sequencing instruments for example that are collecting data and then that data needs to either be aggregated back to a data center or received on the other end of the data center at very high throughput. We'll be showing results of the third phase of that at Bio-IT. 
 
SharePoint plugin:  
 
We are also introducing a new plug-in for SharePoint that allows for direct integration of the Aspera high-speed transfer capability into the SharePoint document library. Users can upload and download files and directories of any size with FASP at line speed over WAN using the browser or Aspera Drive on the desktop; and credentials of the SharePoint user and access rights of the user are automatically picked up and enforced by the Aspera plug-in. The Aspera server and storage can be anywhere—on AWS S3, in Azure, in a company's data center—and the SharePoint experience of browsing the files in the document library is preserved. The transfers are entirely tracked and managed, including user, displayed in SharePoint and Aspera console.
 
*Editor’s Note: The Bio-IT World Conference & Expo will be held in Boston on April 29-May 1. For more information, see www.bio-itworldexpo.com 
 
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