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Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to Shift Usage of Sequencing Capacity; Upgrade IT

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will spend the coming year upgrading and shifting how it uses its sequencing capacity, according to its Annual Review for 2008/09, published today — the first time the institute has released online its yearly report on its operations.

Sanger said it will add another 800 terabytes of disk capacity in 2009-10, in addition to its current 3 petabytes — which represents a doubling of capacity over what it had in 2007-08 — to its data center.

Also in the coming year, the institute said it will virtualize its 300 racked servers into less than 20 blade computers, an action that Sanger said will generate "significant" space and energy use savings. During 2007-08, the institute installed more than 80 virtual servers on three blade servers, and has added 2,000 cores of blade computers, raising the number to more than 5,000.

"To support continued expansion of the IT operation, we are investigating ways to bring additional electrical power onto the Genome Campus so that we can fit-out the fourth quadrant of the data centre," according to the Annual Review.

At the same time, Sanger said, it is exploring emerging technologies such as cloud computing, and planning long-term to switch its IT operations to a combination of on-site and offsite data facilities.

"This is necessary not only for disaster recovery purposes but also to establish resilient mirrored data operations (replication) as an alternative to large tape backups, which will not scale to multipetabyte levels," Sanger said.

Despite the expansion plans, the institute said, its web traffic has remained steady at between 15 and 16 million hits each week, resulting in up to 8 million weekly page impressions.

Sanger said in its annual review that it will shift the use of its sequencing capacity from large-scale initiatives such as the 1000 Genomes Project and Cancer Genome Project, to clinical studies focused on generating sequence information for patient samples.

"The major challenge will be to understand the significance of the variation identified and what it means to an individual," the institute said.

Sanger identified four challenges and opportunities in the coming year for its human genomics group: developing new statistical strategies to define critical pathways and networks underlying human diseases; following up on selected initial gene findings in large population cohorts and functional studies; integrating large-scale sequencing datasets from the 1000 Genomes Project and other studies; and using model organisms in functional studies of particular disease genes and pathways.

The institute sought to bolster its statistical analysis effort in 2008-09 by recruiting two faculty members, Jeff Barrett and Eleftheria Zeggini, as well as two junior faculty members, statistical geneticist Carl Anderson and CDF investigator Nicole Soranzo.

Other coming-year developments at Sanger highlighted by the Annual Review:

• Mouse and zebrafish genetics: The group "will be reshaped to support major external interactions, in the light of progress towards a large-scale phenotyping."

• Research support: Sanger is using on a trial basis a new system that will, if fully implemented, raise its overall animal storage capacity from 20,800 to 29,000 cages. Also, a new training program increased the institute's number of licensed animal technicians from 18 to more than 40.

• Sequencing informatics: The institute in 2009-10 intends to replace a legacy capillary tracking system with its Sequencescape software suite, designed to support research workflow and laboratory processes. Sanger is advertising for a senior software developer whose primary role would be to work on Sequencescape.

In the annual review, Sanger said it spends "in the region of £80 million to £90 million" annually, or between $132.5 million and $149 million. That range would encompass the £89 million ($147.4 million) total budget reported for the institute in Wellcome Trust's Annual Review 2008. All but £14.3 million of the £89 million came from Wellcome Trust itself.

The remainder of the funding comes from the European Union, the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the National Institutes of Health, and other sources.

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