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Blackstone Builds Compute Farm for Genomic Research at Pfizer s DTC Think Tank

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Blackstone Technology Group said that a compute farm it built to support genomics-based research at Pfizer’s Discovery Technology Center in Cambridge, Mass., is now operational.

Blackstone, based in Worcester, Mass., provided hardware and software for the compute farm, which runs on the Linux operating system and uses Intel-based processors. Blackstone is also providing Pfizer with technologies and services to support Pfizer’s work at the DTC in establishing priorities among thousands of genomics-based drug research targets.

Blackstone also has a service contract with Pfizer, in which it will train the company’s staff to use the new facility.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ron Ranauro, CEO of Blackstone, compared Pfizer’s DTC to a “Xerox PARC think-tank model for genomics-based drug discovery.” Pfizer opened the center two years ago to apply innovative technologies to the drug discovery process.

A spokeswoman from Pfizer declined to comment on the Blackstone system.

Michael Athanas, director of scientific consulting and development at Blackstone, said that Blackstone customized its existing compute farm technology to meet Pfizer’s needs. Blackstone’s SmartWatch monitoring software, SmartCache data management tool, and SmartBlast Blast execution software were “tuned to Pfizer’s environment and research goals,” Athanas said.

SmartBlast, in particular, was customized to enable high-throughput data analysis production. The program distributes Blast execution over a cluster of computers by segmenting target databases, avoiding disk swapping, and reducing total memory costs, according to Blackstone. The program merges Blast results into a single XML document.

Athanas said that Blackstone’s compute farms could cost 1/20 to 1/5 the price of a mainframe system of comparable computing power, depending on the architecture that is deployed. He said the company’s approach tailors each compute farm to the client’s applications, which significantly reduces the cost of ownership.

“For a farm of size N, you don’t want the costs to be N times the cost of maintaining a single machine,” Athanas said.

Blackstone built a similar compute farm for Biogen in November. Blackstone spokesman Bill Perkins said that the Biogen and Pfizer systems are among a total of 10-15 deals with pharmaceutical and biotech companies that Blackstone will announce over the next few months.

Perkins added that Blackstone is experiencing “amazing growth” in this market.

—BT

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