NEW YORK, Nov 21 –In their first successful joint commercial venture, Incyte and SGI have jointly installed a Linux-based bioinformatics systems at Bristol-Myers Squibb, SGI announced Tuesday.
Bristol-Myers Squibb is the first customer to sign up for the Incyte-SGI system, which links Incyte's Linux cluster with an SGI Origin 2000 server. The pharmaceutical giant will use the system for gene and protein sequence analysis, transcriptional profiling, and proteomics.
Incyte decided to market this cluster, which it initially developed as a “Linux farm” of about 3,000 Linux CPUs for its own mammoth sequence and analysis database, when other companies began to ask for it, said 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 said.
But Incyte partnered with SGI because it believed SGI could better handle the business of installing, configuring, and supporting the clusters, said 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, told GenomeWeb that Bristol-Myers Squibb chose IncytePak because it outperformed other supercomputers at a fraction of the cost.
“Really performance to price is the bottom line,” said Seimers. “There was an eight-fold difference” between the Linux cluster and other comparable supercomputing systems. Linux is cheaper because the software is free, it runs on no-name commodity machines. In addition it is supported by a cadre of volunteer Linux die-hards.
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,” Seimers said.
With SGI behind them, Bristol-Myers Squibb will have paid for support for both the hardware and the software, virtually eliminating the volunteer issue. But Seimers said 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.”
The Linux system is also useful, said Seimers, because it will also go a long way towards solving one of the biggest drug discovery problems big pharma faces these days: the data glut. Linux clusters are designed to create more server space for larger applications that require intense threading or major chunks of memory and to reduce the company’s administrative overhead in transferring data and calculations between computing platforms, making users more efficient.