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Why DevOps is being prescribed in the healthcare and pharma sectors

Richard Yates
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DevOps is where the software development process (“Dev”) and underlying IT operations (“Ops”) join up to ensure the appropriately resourced, efficient and rapid delivery of software. While the term has only really entered widespread use in the last year or so, the relationship between developers and IT ops people has always existed. Developers rely upon IT throughout the software lifecycle for a host of tools and environments for building, testing and releasing their software, as well as monitoring its performance post-launch.

Other really important things to know about DevOps are:

It is inextricably linked to the concept of Agile software development. As Agile approaches lead to a greater number of more frequent releases, the necessity for greater organisational change (in the form of DevOps) grows. By the same token, the emergence of DevOps has also been supported by the appetite for continuous delivery (CD) practices. DevOps often includes a substantial degree of automation to enable this. Cloud-based computing is a major catalyst for DevOps adoption. One commentator likened the relationship between the two as being like chocolate and peanut butter. This is due to the ease of consumption enabled by cloud models, which fit Agile-related goals. However, as cloud matures, some organisations find that the orchestration of multiple DevOps toolsets from multiple clouds for multiple software projects can produce problematic levels of organisational complexity. DevOps is a central protagonist in the ‘shadow IT’ phenomenon. In organisations where the IT operations department cannot meet the pace and capacity demands being generated by software development, developers routinely short-circuit projected delays by using unsanctioned cloud IT resources to get their work done. Good DevOps removes this requirement, giving greater control, visibility, security and governance over valuable intellectual property.

DevOps adoption in healthcare, life sciences and pharma is being driven by some simple business common sense

According to analyst group Forrester Research, life sciences IT, and the pharmaceuticals sector in particular, is ranked as one of the top DevOps adopting industries in 2016. Some of the key objectives are hardly surprising:

1.Faster time to revenue ⋅⋅Getting to market quickly with a new drug is a compelling motivator and clearly demonstrates effective ROI. It is also critical to competitiveness and achieving market leadership in new treatment categories. 2.Fewer problems with releases ⋅⋅*Better product quality, lower failure rates and quicker lead times between fixes are all reported benefits of DevOps adopters. These support similar goals encompassed by Agile and CD methodologies. 3.Greater efficiency in the development process ⋅⋅As well as better overall productivity brought about by increased use of automated processes, DevOps enables better dynamic scaling of IT ops resource to meet development needs and address ‘feast or famine’ usage without over or under compensating. This alleviates resource bottlenecks and prevents overspends on unused capacity.

One adopter is biotech firm MediVector, which uses DevOps tools such as Salt to “deploy and freeze (virtual) machine images used in the drug development process” as part of a broader Agile approach. In an interview with TechTarget, CIO Orhan Karsligil explains how the status of each virtual machine can then be easily audited by the QA team, saving valuable time in the development process.

Barriers to adoption still remain

RightScale’s fifth annual State of the Cloud Survey found that almost three-quarters of organisations are deploying DevOps. However, industries such as healthcare have lagged a little behind the pack, owing to concerns about stability, security and loss of control.

Something that the most advanced adopters of DevOps have in common is their young age as organisations. Notable examples include Facebook, Google and AirBnB. This not only provides a clean sheet of paper from an infrastructure perspective, but also culturally as there is no legacy of traditional IT approaches to evolve. Clearly, while there are many ‘newborn’ exceptions, the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors have more than their fair share of long-established institutions. The good news is that even old-stagers like Johnson & Johnson are getting in on the act.

DevOps is here to stay, and those yet to immerse themselves in tools like Docker, Puppet and Chef are fast becoming the minority. Extending present approaches to Agile and continuous delivery may not be a straightforward process, but it will be critical to enabling new advantages like increased automation and cloud orchestration.

For healthcare, life sciences and pharma organisations, software development is a global consideration that must achieve results in a highly competitive and regulated environment. DevOps is set to make lives a little easier, and software a little better, if it hasn’t already.

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Topics: Software Development, healthcare, Pharmaceutical

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