Real World Windows Azure: Interview with Arzeda Corp.

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Alexandre Zanghellini, Cofounder at Arzeda, and Yih-En Andrew Ban, Project Leader and Scientist at Arzeda, about using the Windows Azure platform to power the company’s compute-heavy enzyme-design process. Here’s what they had to say:

MSDN: Tell us more about Arzeda and the services you offer.
Zanghellini:
Arzeda is a biotechnology firm that engineers custom-made enzymes for almost any chemical reaction. By designing these bioprocesses, our vision is to replace petroleum-based products and processes to contribute to a more sustainable environment.

MSDN: What was the biggest challenge Arzeda faced prior to implementing Windows Azure?
Zanghellini:
The methodology that we use to engineer enzymes requires extensive computing power. We have a small in-house Linux cluster, but it wasn’t powerful enough for some of our computational calculations. The amount of processing power that we need for some calculations is on par with what you would find with a 250-core cluster. However, we only need that massive scalability a few days a month, so building an on-premises infrastructure to accommodate our processing needs was unrealistic at a cost in excess of U.S.$250,000.

MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure and how it helped address your need for cost-effective scalability?
Ban:
We use Windows Azure compute and storage services. Scientists prepare jobs for computation, packaging them in XML messages and sending them to Queue storage in Windows Azure. Scientists then submit a job request and start compute instances-anywhere from tens to hundreds of instances-on Windows Azure, which picks up the jobs from the queues and processes them. We use Blob storage for data input and output files and Table storage to store job-state information. When the jobs are complete, scientists download the computations to on-premises computers that we for data analysis. Using a sweeper process, we can automatically shut down the instances of Windows Azure as soon as all the jobs are finished processing.

MSDN: What makes your solution unique?
Zanghellini: Our engineering methodology integrates the power of chemical catalysis, the high selectivity of biological macromolecules, and the flexibility of computational design. With Windows Azure, we have the power we need to complete these compute-heavy processes and can scale up with just a few clicks.

MSDN: What benefits have you seen since working with Windows Azure?
Zanghellini:
In addition to the dramatically improved scalability, we’ve avoided the costly capital expenditures to build an on-premises infrastructure, which we estimated could cost around $250,000, and are only spending about 13 percent of that as an operational expense. With Windows Azure, we only pay for what we use. In addition, with only four employees, we don’t have extra resources available to maintain a large IT infrastructure. By using Windows Azure, we can maintain our focus on what we do best-designing new enzymes-and let Microsoft handle the infrastructure.

Read the full story at: www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?casestudyid=4000007524

To read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit:  www.windowsazure.com/evidence