Should Our Early-Stage Biotech Invest in an On-Site Server? 5 Questions to Ask

Posted by Steven Vigeant on 5/10/16 11:44 AM

IT technician installing a serverDoes an early-stage biotech company even need servers? If you listen to the way some people talk about it, on-site servers are unnecessary expenses in the modern, cloud-based world.

But while cloud services do give startup biotech firms unprecedented power to launch quickly with a small team, as your firm grows, special consideration needs to be taken when you start planning your company infrastructure. To be clear, we here at Data Evolution embrace both local and cloud servers, storage and applications. These days it is more likely our clients will have a hybrid (local and cloud) system. There are many things that are best served in the cloud but for this blog we are focusing on how to help make decisions around why you may need a local versus a cloud based system. There are considerations around power, storage space, and security your firm will need to reach your growth goals.

What is a Server?

When I say on-site “server,” I’m talking about a physical computing device that resides inside your company’s facility. It’s usually built around the Windows Active Directory platform, which allows for user authentication, policy enforcement and other important security functions, as well as providing local high-speed network storage to your lab systems and user base. It can be used as an application server for scientific software, databases and Quickbooks, and act as a licensing manager for all your expensive biotech software applications.


Are You Ready for a Server? 5 Questions to Ask

Here are the five questions I always ask early-stage biotech companies when I’m helping them decide whether or not an on-site server is right for them — now or in the future:


1. What type of data are you generating (or will you be generating)?

Biotech firms, especially those with a lab function, tend to generate a moderate to massive amount of data. If you’re generating data already, think about how much more you’ll generate with a larger staff and more money to invest. With local storage on a network, those data files will move around your local network more quickly and can provide some level of efficacy to your lab systems and staff. Data organization and knowing where that data resides for backup reasons is also key.


2. What stage is your company at now? Where do you expect to be a few years from now?

An on-site server is certainly no small investment. There are unavoidable hardware and software costs, plus the added IT expense of maintaining a server. But very often it makes sense to take the leap during your company’s early stages so you’re prepared for rapid growth once your experiments start generating results, new rounds of investment start coming in, and you start adding to your team.


3. How private does your information need to be?

The biotech industry is under attack from data thieves and the threat is getting more serious. Just last month, two more hospitals admitted they had fallen victim to a wave of ransomware attacks targeted at healthcare facilities throughout the nation.


I tell the businesses I work with to think of a server as a centralized homebase for security that other products and solutions can plug into. A server can serve as a hub for managing users' passwords and setting administrative policies on your team members’ computers. Security these days is more than just having antivirus on your computer and having the facility for local management helps maintain an organized process for onboarding and off boarding employees and contractors and simplifies security management. As your biotech firm matures, these capabilities are crucial for maintaining cybersecurity.


4. How do your everyday users work? What types of activities and applications are they using?

Sometimes, the decision makers I speak with — the CEOs and finance professionals — are biased towards the way they use their computer systems. They are used to working with smaller datasets, most of which can sit comfortably on their laptops. They don’t see much use for servers.

But it may not be these folks who will truly benefit from an on-site server. What really matters is what your regular employees need to do their jobs effectively. What kind of data are they working with and what applications are they using?

Will your team be bringing in large imaging systems? Are they going to be doing any kind of development? Are they going to be saving large data sets? These are the questions you should be asking.


5. What is your tolerance for things going wrong?

When a small business puts their servers and data out on the cloud, there are more things out of your control — more things that could go wrong — than with local systems. There are more points of failure, latency and unknowns that can take more technical skillsets and troubleshooting compared to in-house systems.

When all you traffic in are the typical files of a typical business — email, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents — these failures are just minor annoyances. But when you’re storing and streaming the large datasets via cloud solutions with which biotech companies work, small inconsistencies could lead to poor performance or major disruptions.

Think about the impact of your needs of your firm’s operations long term. You might be able to save some money in the short term with a cloud-only approach, but will it be the right choice for company’s growth in the long term? Making pivots in workflows when you get larger can cause disruptions and impact productivity.


Getting Help With the Server Decision

If you think your early-stage biotech is ready to invest in an on-site server, you’re going to quickly find you have a lot more questions to answer than the five in this blog post. It’s a complicated decision with a lot of options. Many biotech firms turn to an outsourced IT partner to help them sort through the confusion.

For everything you need to know about working with an outside IT partner, follow the link below for a free copy of our recent eBook, “The Ultimate Small Business Guide to IT Outsourcing.”


New Call-to-action



Topics: Biotech, Server