Virtualizing a Venerable Medical Journal

Since 1840, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has been associated with health care expertise. Now the brand includes 60 specialist medical and allied science journals with millions of readers around the world.

As a global brand, the BMJ relies on a digital platform to reach its worldwide audience. To keep up with the demands of this growth, it needed a partner to help it meet its needs.

The printed copies of the venerable journal are still mailed out, but the journal also embraces digital technology and expanded reach. It was the first medical journal in the world to go online 21 years ago, says Sharon Cooper, chief digital officer at the BMJ.

The internet has expanded the journal’s reach and the number of products it manages. Given the growth the journal has seen—and the future growth it anticipates—a change in infrastructure was in order. The BMJ needed to achieve a balance between the desire to keep everything in-house and the need for agility enabled by a fully virtualized environment.

Its solution was to work with a managed service provider (MSP) that would help it achieve that balance. It found it in Datapipe, which got the BMJ fully virtualized, with more than 200 virtual machines running its applications 24/7 in a private cloud infrastructure. By limiting the downtime, they were able to achieve a move that resulted in far greater efficiency and an enhancement of collaboration with no disruption of service.

In 2015, the BMJ signed the contract and shut down the old data center in June 2016. The shutdown was done in groups, rather than all in one shot to ascertain “that everything worked while it was moving,” Cooper says. It was carefully planned out, starting with a small move as a test before tacking “the really big difficult stuff.”

There should also be less downtime going forward, as processes are much less tangled up in each other. Cooper explains that many things that previously were on shared boxes are now on their own. That eliminates downtime due to maintenance going on somewhere else in the same box.

Saving Time, Increasing Efficiency

The time saved is substantial. It used to take two to three weeks to build a developer’s machine, but now it’s automated and can be built in under an hour. “And we’re hoping to get it down to a few minutes,” Cooper says. This efficiency helps the BMJ maximize the value of the development team members, who are now able to work without delays. All the needed changes were achieved without having to add staff or workload time.

The journal also sees a release cycle enhancement, as they’ve progressed from one product update a month to up to several updates a day. “Everything is very iterative,” she explains. While releases “used to be an event,” they now happen with such frequency that they’re seen as “a complete nonevent.”

In addition, content has started to be delivered using APIs rather than weekly batch file transfer jobs, and services can now be built around the APIs. It’s “really simple to link APIs in,” Cooper observes. This is a contrast to the way thing were before, which she characterizes as “monolithic.” Because of that structure, it was “almost impossible to take a single component out.”

Now, the BMJ can easily swap out components for faster, more efficient results. That’s what it takes to build business value, she says, “being faster, more cost-effective and quicker to market.”

The more agile infrastructure also fosters an agile culture in IT that creates a spirit of collaboration throughout the organization. Cooper observes that people work on projects better if they are in proximity to each other, and the regular, short contact together works better than extended meetings at longer intervals. For that reason, developer teams and business teams work together, building great cross-communication.