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Busy Week for Blackstone Brings New Name, New Software Product, and New Customer


While most companies are happy lining up a few prospective clients at a typical trade show, Blackstone Computing emerged from last week’s Drug Discovery Technology conference in Boston, Mass., with a new customer, a new product launch, and a new name.

Formerly Blackstone Technology Group, the company timed the name change to coincide with the launch of its PowerCloud infrastructure software, reflecting its evolution from a consultant to a software provider. Blackstone plans to continue its consulting practice — indeed, its new deal with Vertex Pharmaceuticals is based on consulting rather than software — but CEO Brian Ritchie said the company has found that consulting “becomes dated.”

Explained Ritchie, “When you come in and consult with a customer and then you implement those recommendations, as time progresses those changes and recommendations wear off because the company’s business and scientific objectives change over time.”

Ritchie said the name change and the PowerCloud software are evidence of Blackstone’s desire to “take the brain matter that we have in our consulting and codify that as a software product.” The PowerCloud software “is almost like leaving Blackstone behind at the site” after the consulting job is done, Ritchie said, because it automatically measures performance trends and allocates compute resources based on user-defined business and scientific priorities.

Describing PowerCloud as software that bridges the gap between a company’s IT infrastructure, its IT administration, and its business and science goals, Ritchie said, “The problem is that companies are typically out of sync. Their IT infrastructure and their IT support structure is out of step or out of phase with their scientific objectives.”

While an effective consulting group can bring a company’s IT resources back in line with these goals, the problem, according to Ritchie, is that those goals change too frequently for most companies to keep pace.

In response, Blackstone said, PowerCloud offers a number of applications that monitor the performance of an organization’s computing infrastructure, capture performance and usage trends, and designate resources according to scientific priorities that are defined by researchers. In addition, the PowerCloud Data Balancer application manages data distribution across the computing infrastructure and automatically updates the content of frequently accessed datasets, while the PowerCloud Blast application distributes Blast executions over a cluster of computers.

“As the company’s groups and priorities change, the software will dynamically change the allocation and the weighting of the infrastructure to match how the priorities have changed,” said Ritchie.

This feature keeps both the scientists using the software and the organization’s IT support staff happy, Ritchie said, because the scientists spend less time worrying about IT issues while the IT staff can spend less time physically re-allocating resources due to shifting research priorities.

In addition, Ritchie said, “What the IT guys are doing today is making sure each computer runs as fast as it possibly can. But they have no way of knowing if the work that computer is working on is the right work.” This approach, he said, “Is kind of like having a car tuned to go as fast as it can down Route 290, but you want to be going down 495. So you’re making a lot of progress but you’re going in the wrong direction.”

Because PowerCloud gears the compute infrastructure toward those projects that are most important to a company at a particular point in time, “it not only gets the computing infrastructure to run fast, but running fast in the right direction.”

PowerCloud will be installed at several beta sites through the end of September. Vertex, whose new Blackstone compute farm will go live at the end of the month, is among a number of companies who have expressed interest in beta-testing the software. The initial installation that Blackstone has created for Vertex comprises 56 computers and 112 933 MHz Pentium III processors. The cluster provides approximately 110 gigaflops at theoretical peak computing power, estimated to be five times faster than Vertex’s current supercomputer cluster. The system will allow further expansion to 450 computers and 900 processors to keep pace with Vertex’s computing needs, Blackstone said.

Vertex joins Blackstone’s current life science customers, who include Biogen, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. Ritchie, who took over the reins at Blackstone in February and has since focused the company’s efforts on the life sciences market, said he was pleased with Blackstone’s growing name recognition among potential life science clients.

— BT


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