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SGI Sows Incyte’s Linux Farm

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While Incyte continues to reap a rich genomic harvest from its Linux farm, SGI has recently begun replanting copies of the Incyte Linux cluster in large companies around the world.

In late November, SGI announced that it had installed the first Linux cluster, along with its SGI Origin 2000 server, at Bristol-Myers Squibb. The pharmaceutical giant says it will use the system for gene and protein sequence analysis, transcriptional profiling, and proteomics.

Incyte decided to commercialize the cluster, which consists of about 3,000 Linux CPUs, when other companies began to ask for it, says Stu Jackson, Incyte’s director of bioinformatics. “What our software provides is a simple and convenient mechanism for farming a large number of jobs to a group of machines,” he says.

But Incyte is letting SGI handle the business of installing, configuring, and supporting the clusters, says Jackson. SGI markets the Incyte Linux cluster, which it calls the “IncytePak,” as part of its Linux product line. Nathan Siemers, group leader of bioinformatics at Bristol-Myers Squibb, says the company chose IncytePak because it outperformed other supercomputers at a fraction of the cost.

“There was an eight-fold difference” between the Linux cluster and other comparable supercomputing systems, says Siemers. These economics provided a compelling enough argument for Bristol-Myers Squibb management to get past the idea of using volunteer-supported freeware — an aspect of Linux that has in the past made management teams queasy — for its commercial research.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb bioinformaticists ventured into Linux clustering “sort of quietly in the very beginning, but we did not encounter a lot of resistance once the performance-to-price numbers were put out for what we had done,” Siemers says.

With SGI behind it, Bristol-Myers Squibb will have paid for support for both the hardware and the software, virtually eliminating the volunteer issue. But Siemers says the value of Linux developers should not be underestimated. “Often they are more effective than a call to some help desk at a software vendor.”

— Marian Moser Jones

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