IT Science Case Study: Docker Helps HudsonAlpha Lab Get More Efficient

HudsonAlpha sought to create more standardization and best practices to unify IT operations to support all types of applications in a hybrid cloud environment. And that's exactly what its new solution did.


This is the latest article in a new feature series in eWEEK called IT Science, in which we look at what really happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them will be success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic:  HudsonAlpha Institute Seeks Standardization, New Efficiencies

Name the problem to be solved: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, located in Huntsville, Ala., is a nonprofit research institute that allows researchers, entrepreneurs and educators to collaborate on important medical advancements based on genomic research. Every year, HudsonAlpha generates and collects nearly 4 petabytes of private health data. The organization partners with more than 800 research labs worldwide and relies on advanced gene sequencing machines running day and night. Scientists and researchers rely on this data to help develop therapies and cures for everything from Alzheimer’s to immunological disorders to cancer, but managing it in a secure and consistent manner proves to be a challenge.

Describe the strategy that went into finding the solution: A priority for CIO Peyton McNully was to ensure that his team at HudsonAlpha support and accelerate the life-changing research being done--which meant addressing three key challenges: improving management and security for its diverse IT environment, deploying a hybrid cloud environment for scaling workloads and implementing a consistent delivery platform to control data sovereignty. In collaborating with scientists and researchers from around the world--and therefore dealing with code and scripts contributed from other teams--HudsonAlpha also sought to create more standardization and best practices to unify IT operations to support all types of applications in a hybrid cloud environment. HudsonAlpha ultimately selected Docker Enterprise Edition to be the container platform for its IT strategy moving forward.

List the key components in the solution: Docker Enterprise Edition is the backbone for how HudsonAlpha delivers container services to its researchers, powering and enabling key technology initiatives from hybrid cloud to microservices. HudsonAlpha also relies on HPE Synergy hardware, as well as Digital Ocean and Google Cloud Platform as part of its IT environment.

Describe how the deployment went, how long it took, and if it came off as planned: HudsonAlpha implemented Docker Enterprise Edition and gained the flexibility and choice to run its containerized applications either on Synergy bare metal or in the cloud. The team now has the option to run workloads in their own data center or in one of their public clouds, giving them the burst capacity they needed. Additionally, by containerizing the applications--including classic monoliths supporting campus operations (building management systems, legacy utility metering systems, etc.)--HudsonAlpha has refactored applications with microservices and now easily deploys and provisions microservices. By implementing the Docker container platform, HudsonAlpha is well equipped to handle the demands of genomic research, and researchers are able to innovate more rapidly in search of the next major medical discovery.

Describe the result, new efficiencies gained, and what was learned from the project: By turning to Docker EE, HudsonAlpha has been able to function as a hybrid cloud IT service provider and equip researchers and scientists with the tools they need to accelerate and advance research. HudsonAlpha gained a number of benefits from Docker Enterprise Edition, including:

  • Gaining portability across hybrid/multi-cloud environments: With Docker, applications become immediately portable, enabling HudsonAlpha to easily shift workloads between on-premise to the cloud, as well as across clouds.
  • Accelerating research without compromising security or compliance: Keeping sensitive patient data safe is of critical importance to HudsonAlpha. Docker EE provides robust security features, including Docker Trusted Registry, security scanning and role-based access control to ensure images are secure, containers are perpetually scanned for known vulnerabilities and permissions are enforced. Researchers now have the tools to innovate at a faster pace, and IT staff can feel entirely confident that strong security measures are in place--ranging from alignment on best practices for data sovereignty to maintaining HIPAA privacy laws.
  • Establishing a clear separation of concerns: Researchers now can simply create their images, and IT is responsible for securing and scaling the application as needed.

Describe ROI, carbon footprint savings, and staff time savings: HudsonAlpha experienced significant ROI from increased utilization of available hardware--saving the organization more than 60 percent of previous budget on VM consolidation alone. The ROI also extends to operational efficiencies. HudsonAlpha has been able to use Docker Swarm to allocate resources during the day to batch process hundreds of terabytes of data at night. Ultimately, these savings enable more money to be invested back into research, which is acutely important for a non-profit organization.

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK IT Science feature, email [email protected].

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...