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Unplugging the data center

John Dix | May 2, 2014
Nathan McBride joined AMAG Pharmaceuticals in 2008 with an ambitious goal: to rebuild IT using as little internal infrastructure as possible. He succeeded.

Nathan McBride joined AMAG Pharmaceuticals in 2008 with an ambitious goal: to rebuild IT using as little internal infrastructure as possible. He succeeded. In the ensuing years McBride, vice president of IT and chief cloud architect, successfully shut down AMAG's data center, moved everything to the cloud, went wireless everywhere, made BYOD standard practice, and did away with desktop phones. The migration slashed in half the $2.8 million 2008 budget he inherited, but, more importantly, made IT faster and more responsive to the needs of the business. The experience has also taught McBride a lot about managing cloud providers, which is a new IT art form. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix caught up with McBride in his Waltham, Mass., office. 

Where did you come by your aversion to data centers?

The company where I used to work was heavily invested in building data centers, making them bigger. And I was having a hard time coming to grips with the need to buy these big boxes only to use 10% of them. When I joined AMAG they had an external IT consulting firm doing all of their day-to-day IT work, but I convinced the CFO to get rid of the data center. At the time SaaS was not really formally used as a term but SOAP was, so the idea was to chain together these co-lo structured environments. He didn't think it was possible, but said, "If you think you can do it, then let's go ahead and try."

With the promise being?

To run IT very lean. I would only need a small team to do this, and by cutting out the data center I would net out cost. My budget would become much lower. I didn't know how much lower, but I just knew it would become lower. So I hired a staff of three specialists, coaxing them to join by saying we were going to get rid of this entire data center, take everything that's in here and change it into something else, and we're going to make this company efficient as we grow.

We had assembled our A-Team by the middle of 2008 — a project manager, somebody who had experience with agile and Scrum and PMP development, and a data center master, someone who understood not just how to put in a big server, but the security, the network, the whole thing — and the goal was to see half of the data center gone by the end of the year. 

We then built a bullpen with whiteboards all the way around and started to map out our plan.

We identified the five main areas you typically find in IT — backups, email, file servers, security and service and then set about figuring out how to strip them down to their leanest part and, more importantly, how to get them all out. 

 

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