What You Need to Plan for in Your Biotech IT: Security, Speed, Scalability

Posted by Steven Vigeant on 12/12/12 8:15 AM

biotech startup game planA mistake biotech startups often make is trying to run expensive equipment on a cheap IT infrastructure. I’ve had biotech companies brag about building their IT infrastructure for a lot less than what may have been proposed by an IT outsourcing company.  They don’t understand why they should buy a more expensive corporate level wireless access point when they can get a $70 one from Staples.

The reality is that because biotech companies are especially vulnerable to IT failures, short-term cost-cutting can lead to significant long-term expenses.  An inexpensive network switch from Staples was never designed to handle the high loads of digital traffic common to biotech companies.  In IT, as in all things, you get what you pay for.  Biotech companies, once they start rolling, don’t have a lot of patience for downtime of the IT system. These downtimes cost precious working hours when your biotech company is working towards its next milestone. You can quickly spend more money fixing problems related to less expensive IT equipment than you would setting up on the proper gear. With that in mind, there are three aspects of the biotech industry that make an upfront investment particularly important: security, speed, scalability.


At your biotech company, data is your product or value; it’s foolhardy to leave that data unprotected.  One of the smartest steps you can take for your biotech startup is calling in an outside IT solutions provider (ITO), a company that advises businesses on their IT, as well as offering a variety of outsourced services.  A well-established ITO will offer security advice based on years of experience, familiarity with both successes and disastrous IT failures.         

Where should your data be stored?  There is a wide range of cloud options, but many of them may not be as secure as they seem. Some of these cloud services are great for certain kinds of businesses but not for a business that has so much intellectual property in its data files.  The cloud can be cheap, but most biotech companies are better off learning about hybrid-cloud options or on-site servers or storage that they can control rather than sending their data to a remote location where you never know who has access to it or what the potential of the cloud provider being hacked could be. An ITO can advise you on cloud or hybrid-cloud solutions that provide adequate security and auditing for access or help you create a secure server on-site with enough capacity for your data.


Your ability to gather and process data is only as fast as your system can handle.  Scientists may see the need to buy a $250,000 piece of lab equipment but think that all computer hardware has the same capacity.  If your biotech company is storing and processing significant amounts of data, make sure your IT infrastructure can handle it all.  Will researchers be able to work with the data you’re gathering easily?  How quickly can you run your experiments?  Do you have the capacity to store all this data, and how to you back it up offsite in case of a local disaster?  Cumulatively, slow speeds or unreliable network equipment can mean lost days and weeks of productivity.  Investing in the right equipment will ensure that your business moves as quickly as possible towards results.


If one of the biggest mistakes is trying to do IT on the cheap, the second biggest one is not planning for uncertainty.  You need to build an IT infrastructure that can grow and contract with your company.  A round of funding might enable your company to hire new employees—is the system you invested in six months ago able to accommodate the new work?  At other times your company might need to contract—will you have contracts with vendors that keep you locked into a product or service you no longer need?  The smart business decision is to plan for change.

A common mistake is for a biotech startup to buy inexpensive hardware that has a fixed capacity.  When the company grows, that initial investment may need to be thrown away because it simply can’t handle the additional demands.  A slightly more expensive server or switch can either handle the additional traffic or its capacity can be expanded.

An ITO that has extensive experience can help you put a smart plan in place, one that allows for pretty significant changes in the size or scope of your IT.         

Biotech companies face unique challenges with their IT infrastructure. Keeping security, speed, and scalability will help you plan the IT infrastructure best suited to your needs in the biotech industry.

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Topics: IT Outsourcing, Biotechnology Startup, ITO