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Cray Teams With Markley to Offer 'Supercomputing-as-a-Service' to Life Sciences

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CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – Supercomputing giant Cray is teaming up with Markley Group, a cloud host and data center provider, to offer supercomputing-as-a-service technologies and hosting. The first industry they are targeting is life sciences, including genomics, the two companies announced this week.

Why life sciences? Boston-based Markley's customer base is largely concentrated in New England, said Markley Executive Vice President Jeff Flanagan, and the Boston-Cambridge area is obviously a hotbed of genomics, pharmaceutical, and other healthcare technology companies.

Furthermore, "it's a really good use case," said Ted Slater, global head of healthcare and life sciences at Seattle-based Cray.

"If you want to play Minesweeper on a Cray, it won't give you any advantage," Slater quipped. But a supercomputer like one from Cray's Urika line is ideal for analyzing genomes and handling other high-throughput applications.

"We're lining up our competencies of supercomputing and [those of] Markley in infrastructure," Slater said.

The partnership will launch with Markley hosting and providing services on the Cray Urika-GX for life sciences, featuring pre-integrated hardware and software, including the Cray Graph Engine pattern-matching analytics platform. The two companies said their future collaborative plans "include Cray's full range of infrastructure solutions."

Cray has previously said that its Urika series of products — including the Urika-GD graph discovery appliance and Urika-XA extreme analytics platform — is well-suited for life sciences. In 2015, Slater said that Cray had seen strong interest from large sequencing centers and pharmaceutical data centers.

Cray developed Urika-GD for pattern matching; it stores entire graphs in a single, large bank of memory — at least 2 terabytes per computer, and usually more. In biology, this technology can assist with analyzing interactions and connections within molecular networks to help researchers looking to identify predictive biomarkers or create more effective treatments, the company has previously said.

"Research and development, particularly within life sciences, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies, is increasingly data-driven. Advances in genome sequencing technology mean that the sheer volume of data and analysis continues to strain legacy infrastructures," Chris Dwan, an independent consultant specializing in data architecture for life sciences, said in a statement provided by Cray this week.

"The shortest path to breakthroughs in medicine is to put the very best technologies in the hands of the researchers, on their own schedule. Combining the strengths of Cray and Markley into supercomputing as a service does exactly that," added Dwan, who until March was director of research computing at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Markley claims to be the only company in the world that offers supercomputing as a service, and guarantees 100 percent uptime as part of its standard service agreement. "This is a great opportunity for Cray to be offering supercomputing as a service," Cray executive Slater said.

The Cray-Markey partnership will allow those in temporary need of supercomputing power — or those that don't want to invest in the infrastructure — to rent space on a Cray system for a specific period of time. "It will be a reservation-type model," Flanagan said.

In making the partnership announcement, Cray cited a September 2016 report on high-performance computing from IT research and consulting firm Gartner. "Augmenting your on-premises infrastructure with HPC clouds enables you to meet your existing [service-level agreements] while scaling up performance-driven analytics for emerging use cases," that report said.

Slater expects early interest for next-generation sequencing and from those following the Broad Institute Genome Analysis Toolkit. "There are lots of advantages to be able to use a very flexible and high-performance [remote] platform for NGS," Slater said.

"It can accelerate their science work and get them answers faster," said Markley Chief Technology Officer Patrick Gilmore. "They can develop blockbuster drugs faster and save people's lives."

The technology can make researchers working withHail genomic analysis software as much as five times faster, according to Slater. Hail is an open-source project — still in beta — that started in 2015 to help laboratories and researchers manage massive amounts of genomic data. But, like any other software, it is only as good as the hardware it runs on.

"Cray is a real supercomputer," said Slater. "These things help the science accelerate. Just doing the science faster makes you more efficient."

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