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UPDATE: IBM Seeks Major Market Presence with NuTec Supercomputer

NEW YORK, Dec 18 - The 7.5-teraflop computing cluster that IBM is building for Atlanta-based NuTec Sciences will give IBM a “distinct advantage” in the genomics marketplace, an IBM spokesperson said Monday.

The computing cluster, which will be used by NuTec’s life science unit to study genes’ role in disease, will have a processing capacity of 7.5 trillion calculations per second, making it the fastest non-governmental system, IBM said.

Peter Morrissey, president of NuTec’s life sciences division, told GenomeWeb that he expects delivery of the first quarter of the machine by the end of the calendar year, with phased delivery over the following six to nine months. The first phase should be functional within 30-40 days, with 1.8 teraflops up and running by mid-February.  

The deal represents IBM’s latest step to position itself as a major player in the genomics market. In August, the company’s life sciences business unit announced an initiative to invest $100 million in the development of IT solutions for processing genomic data. Since then, the company has also formed technology partnerships with Incyte Genomics, First Genetic Trust, and Structural Bioinformatics.     

Jamie Coffen, a spokesman from IBM’s life sciences business unit, said the deal would gives IBM a “distinct advantage in the marketplace” due to NuTec’s existing relationships with the NIH and the National Human Genome Research Institute, which consist of co-developing algorithms.

The supercomputing cluster will consist of 1,250 IBM eServer p640 devices running IBM's DB2 Universal Database, supported by 2.5 terabytes of memory, 50 terabytes of online disk storage and a high-bandwidth networking infrastructure.

Morrissey said that NuTec benchmarked a number of hardware systems in its supercomputer center in Houston, including Sun, Hitachi, Compaq, and Linux clusters, and determined that IBM offered the most efficient platform based on performance and cost for NuTec’s applications. He declined to offer any details.

Some market watchers speculated that IBM, whose computers are historically among the more expensive, might have cut NuTec a deal in order to secure a stronger foothold in the genomics sector.

IBM software for web application serving, information portals, and data integration will also be included in the system. NuTec Sciences will use the system to manage, mine and integrate genetic data from a wide variety of sources, and share this information via the Internet with the global life sciences community.

NuTec plans to run several massively parallel applications on the cluster. Morrissey said that a combinatorics algorithm that NuTec is developing in collaboration with the NIH to analyze disease-causing gene combinations is particularly compute-intensive. This algorithm is running as a test set on the company’s IBM computer in Houston, but Morrissey said they’re awaiting delivery of the supercomputer before it can be scaled up to optimal efficiency.  

NuTec plans to rent the machine to a client base of academic research centers, biotech, and large pharma. Clients can utilize NuTec’s algorithms or they can utilize the facility to run proprietary compute-intensive datasets in a secure environment.

The pricing schema for these capabilities has not yet been determined.

NuTec is also developing a “seamless informatics” system for IBM, which is a software package that will allow users to integrate genetic data with medical records data. Coffen said that the software should be available in May.

“A big problem in all the medical centers right now is taking advantage of the large amounts of clinical data along with the huge amounts of genetic data that we’re getting now, and being able to link those together. This problem is really the next frontier of biological science,” Coffen said.

“We’re by far the leading high-performance computing vendor and have not taken our market strength into this genomics market except on the academic and federal lab side,” Coffen explained, though he denied that the company is playing catch-up within the sector.   

“I think that the genomics market is just taking off right now,” he said. “The Human Genome Project was an important step, but genomics is just a first step in this process. There’s proteomics and other areas that you have to move into now to understand how these complex diseases take place in the body.”

“We’re trying to bring a major market presence into this marketplace.”

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