Tidbits From The Trenches: BioTeam Panelists Advocate Decentralization

June 6, 2017

By Joe Stanganelli

June 6, 2017 | For each of the past several years at the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo, BioTeam Founding Partner and Director of Technology Chris Dagdigian has delivered a perennially popular presentation titled "Trends from the Trenches". Over the years, his session evolved into an unofficial keynote that was renowned for being a forthright and rapid-fire presentation of dozens of slides on technology trends in the life-science space.

At last year's Bio-IT World Conference & Expo, the BioTeam booth even featured a casual guessing game, whiteboarding attendee's predictions of how many slides Dagdigian's presentation would be that year. (Guessing on the nose, at 120, was BioTeam CEO Stan Gloss. This writer came second-closest with his guess of 102.)

This year was different.

At the 2017 Bio-IT World Conference & Expo less than two weeks ago, Dagdigian ceded his solo place in the spotlight in favor of a "BioTeam Micro-Symposium"—featuring a panel consisting of himself, four other BioTeam presenters, and independent technology consultant Chris Dwan to moderate—on 2017 trends in the bio-IT space.

"This event is the outcome of me being a whiny little baby [about singlehandedly presenting] the 'Trends from the Trenches' talk," said Dagdigian. "I kept running out of interesting things to say, [while] other people had equally important things to say."

Indeed, over the course of two hours, the panelists poked and prodded at a broad array of trends, technologies, and cultural issues while offering advice for practitioners in the healthcare and life-sciences space. Below is an outline of some of their more in-depth discussions and noteworthy bullet points.


Gardner: Focus on Converging Solutions to Pain Points Instead of on Tech Hype

For all of the hype around cloud computing and hyperconvergence, argued BioTeam senior scientific consultant Aaron Gardner in his presentation, stakeholders still need specific solutions and use cases at the end of the day to cost-justify these and other technological investments. Gardner urged a science-first, agility-focused, ROI-based approach to tool selection instead of an abstract, hype-driven, technology-first strategy.

"No one can experiment with and evaluate every new technology," said Gardner. "Focus on your pain… Bring your pain. Don't come [to conferences] to just check out new technologies. Bring your pain and spend some time to really quantify that pain."


Shklyar: Equipment Knowledge, Distributed Storage Vital to Data Management

Picking up on Gardner's warnings against abstraction, fellow BioTeam senior scientific consultant Asya Shklyar took the podium to run through a litany of "boring questions" that she and her colleagues ask clients about the data-generation tools and data-management practices so as to uncover their real, concrete problems.

"If you have 1,000 sequencers, and they're all running at the same time, you need to make sure your storage [can handle] that data," said Shklyar. Noting that local storage can easily crash, Shklyar urged that such equipment be able to immediately transfer the data it generates to distributed storage that offers enough storage space. Shklyar further warned of the difficulties in tracking down duplicative data without such adequately distributed storage.

[Big Data is] no longer hype, and it's no longer [about] getting your feet wet," said Shklyar. "It's a lot of interaction with data without human involvement."


Dagdigian: "Cloud Blowbacks" Imminent

After Gardner gave guarded advice on the cloud and Shklyar beat the war drums for distributed storage, Dagdigian picked up where he left off last year on "Cloud Sobriety" with some practical realities—pointing out that AWS still reigns supreme for cloud capabilities and features, but that primary competitors Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform are "perfectly viable."

Still, Dagdigian noted, the costs and risks of cloud computing are still ever present. He went on to predict "cloud blowbacks" and "major migrations" (albeit not necessary back to on-premises storage). He further noted that many organizations simply cannot reap the full benefits of cloud computing because they are failing to adapt their cultures for the optimized agility that the cloud is supposed to enable.

"If your provisioning requires a human being to sign a piece of paper and shuttle it around your organization, you lose a lot of the benefits [of cloud]," said Dagdigian.


Kraut: Technologists and Scientists Should Sit Side by Side

After these discussions about decentralized storage, Adam Kraut, BioTeam's Director of Infrastructure and Cloud Architecture, shifted the conversation to decentralized leadership in DevOps. Urging those in the crowd to substitute humility for ego, Kraut argued that those in leadership roles need to get on the front lines across the organization to understand the organizational needs his fellow presenters discussed.

"You have to understand the why. 'Why am I doing this?'" said Kraut. "Chris [Dagdigian] used to say you can't just tour the lab once a year; you have to actually sit side by side with the scientists."


Berman: Remove Security Roadblocks to Science

Ari Berman, Vice President and General Manager of Consulting Services at BioTeam, closed the presentation series with his own soapboxing on getting technologists to aid science—with an InfoSec twist. As security and accessibility are constantly at odds with each other, Berman argued in favor of the accessibility side of the coin, for science's sake.

Specifically, he evangelized an "alternative security model" that would fast-track BAM files and other scientific data as "safe", employ multi-factor authentication and root passwords, and rely heavily on network segmentation.

"We really need to do IT at the speed of science, and we don't. We do IT at the speed of business administration," said Berman. "Web and email is not how we get science done. Floating Word documents around is not how we collaborate. And being super super safe and secure is awesome, but it's a myth. [W]e end up in the process just killing the innovation machines that our companies are trying to move forward."

Inadvertently emphasizing his point, Berman accidentally kicked an HDMI cable midway through his presentation—crashing his slideshow and blanking the screen.

On cue, Shklyar quickly piped up, "Now it's really secure."