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Unlikely Allies Take on the Blue Giant

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In what could be a $50 million deal, Celera, Compaq, and Sandia National Labs have joined forces to battle IBM for the life sciences supercomputing jackpot.

In December 1999, IBM announced it was launching the $100 million Blue Gene project to create a one-quadrillion-operations-per-second (petaflop) life sciences supercomputer.

Now, Compaq and Sandia say that by 2004 they will design and build an Alpha-processor supercomputer to handle 100 trillion operations per second using parallel configuration and high bandwidth. This is eight times faster than the fastest available supercomputer, according to DOE. Eventually, the team hopes to ramp up the computer’s power to the petabyte IBM is trying to attain.

Celera’s scientists will work directly with Sandia’s to develop biology-focused algorithms, and Celera will then pay in the range of $30 million to $40 million over the next four years for Sandia’s consultation on developing data analysis software to study genomics.

DOE will invest $10 million in the project in a major shift from Sandia’s traditional study of nuclear physics. Sandia is currently building a 30-teraflop computer.

“This partnership is a major part of the push to go from the genome map to [integrated] biology,” says Craig Venter, Celera’s president. “The assembly [of the genome] completed last June took 20,000 CPU hours. Now, it’s clear to the biological community that biology can’t proceed without high-end computing.”

The announcement followed closely on the heels of the introduction of GeneMatcher2, the next generation high-throughput accelerator for sequence analysis developed by Celera’s Paracel unit.

— Marian Moser Jones

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