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British Medical Journal CDO on using Amazon and Alibaba for its multi-cloud strategy

A year on from embracing DevOps and private cloud to help speed up its software development lifecycle, British Medical Journal CDO Sharon Cooper shares an update on how its multi-cloud move is going

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) will spend 2018 refining its hybrid, multi-cloud strategy, having spent much of this year migrating parts of its infrastructure to the Amazon and Alibaba public clouds.

The healthcare publisher completed a six-month migration of 200 of its on-premise development servers to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud in April 2017, and recently set out plans to tap into the Alibaba public cloud to accelerate the organisation’s expansion into the Chinese market.

“Our focus is on running as little physical infrastructure as we can, because the core competency of our business is creating content,” Sharon Cooper, chief digital officer of BMJ, told Computer Weekly.

“We’ve been very ‘head down’ with moving and using public cloud, and next year will be a case of making sure we are utilising it in the best way, and looking at whether other providers could give us a better or different service.”

Looking even further ahead, Cooper said this period of self-reflection is likely to go on into 2019, as the company continues to evaluate what it needs to get to where it wants to go.

“The focus will be on which software tools we need, what back-office systems we need to move and do we use a managed service provider for verses what can we do for ourselves,” she said.

Opening up to Alibaba

In September, BMJ announced details of its burgeoning cloud partnership with Chinese infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider Alibaba, whose infrastructure it will use to make its Best Practice clinical information portal accessible to healthcare professionals in China.

The service provides healthcare professionals with access to regularly updated step-by-step guidance on how to diagnose, treat and prevent various illnesses and ailments, and has been translated into Mandarin for use in China.

By signing up with Alibaba, the service can be delivered directly to users from mainland China, in keeping with the country’s internet regulations.

“You have to follow a whole other set of regulations and guidelines to do business in China, and for us it was about trying to work out how we can maximise and utilise what we can deliver there without having to invest massively in building our own infrastructure,” said Cooper.

The company’s expansion into China is a response to the growing in-country demand for healthcare information and learning materials from healthcare professionals, as BMJ’s business continues to grow across the globe.

“The Chinese market is hugely attractive to almost any organisation, but specifically for us is the massive increase in healthcare provision that is being seen in the number of hospitals, the number of doctors that need to be trained and the changes to the way healthcare is being delivered,” said Cooper.

“It’s just one territory we’re looking at, because most of our business is now overseas and most of the corporate sales we make are made to organisations in all countries.”

The adoption of AWS

During an interview with Computer Weekly in September 2016, Cooper outlined her intentions to do more in the public cloud, beyond using AWS for development and testing, as well as data archiving purposes.

The completion of the AWS migration project could not have been timed better, as the comms room that previously housed its development infrastructure recently suffered a “meltdown” that would have seriously dented the company’s productivity if it was not running in the cloud now.

“We would have stopped working for a month if we hadn’t moved it all,” she said.

Multi-cloud management

The company’s multi-cloud approach to service procurement has been aided and abetted by managed service provider, Datapipe, who has previously worked with the firm to cultivate both private cloud environment and a DevOps-style software development culture.

“We can deploy our entire estate anywhere within minutes with the work we’ve done, enabled by Datapipe, wherever we decide to do that,” said Cooper.

“Everything is designed with infrastructure as a code in mind, and is deployable at the touch of a button. We’ve been rebuilding our best practice from scratch. If we had chosen to do that two years ago, it probably would have taken three or four months to actually get the infrastructure up and running,” she said.

Cooper also credits Datapipe with clearing the company’s path into the Chinese market, and allowing it to effectively set up shop in the country with a much smaller outlay than if it had tried to go it alone.

Read more about multi-cloud

Datapipe has been operating as a managed service provider for Alibaba since October 2016, and also has its own datacentres in Shanghai for BMJ to serve content from.

“We knew we were setting up a business in China, and we were going through a process of opening an office and we knew some of these challenges were ahead of us, so we looked for a partner who had the ability to host in China,” said Cooper.

“We wanted to do that without having to use a large technical workforce to deploy those products, and what Datapipe gives us is the ability to see our operations in the Shanghai datacentre without having to deploy people on the ground,” she said.

Read more on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)