IBM Scored a big win in its campaign to become the premier life sciences IT provider last week, announcing it had divvied up Hewlett-Packard’s Compaq-era account at Celera Genomics with EMC: IBM will provide Celera and its sister company Applied Biosystems with supercomputing power, while EMC will handle the storage requirements of the two Applera business units.
But last week’s news was not all bad for HP, which won a $22 million upgrade from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute — a long-time Compaq customer. Sanger agreed to stick with HP’s AlphaServer system for its latest upgrade. HP will install 38 ES45s, four ES40s, two DS20s, and one 32-CPU GS320 system that will more than double the institute’s current compute power.
In the Celera deal, IBM will install 12 eServer p690 systems at the company’s Rockville, Md., facility, where it will support the as-yet-unidentified computational requirements for Celera’s new role as a drug discovery company as well as the Knowledge Business segment of Foster City, Calif.-based ABI. Expected to be fully deployed in a year, the system will have a peak processing capacity of two teraflops and will completely replace the cluster of 800 Alpha systems that Celera installed in 1998 to power its human genome sequencing efforts.
EMC has put together a networked attached storage package for Applera that includes 150 terabytes of capacity via its Symmetrix system and Celerra file servers, which will be installed at Celera’s Rockville headquarters, and an additional 5 terabytes of capacity in the form of Clariion system to be installed at ABI in Foster City. The three EMC systems will replace 12 Compaq StorageWorks systems currently in use at Celera.
Keeping Up Appearances
The shake-up occurs at a crucial time for all three IT players: HP, long considered a key player in the life sciences, desperately needs the continued support of its A-list life science clients to reassure other customers that it won’t abandon them as it moves from the Alpha chip to Itanium over the next four years. IBM is trying to put some momentum behind its aggressive partnering strategy to win market share — and respect — in a business segment it only set foot in two years ago. And EMC, the latest of the three to identify the life sciences as a target market, is anxious to secure as many big reference accounts as it can as quickly as possible.
The Celera win appears on the surface to be a sign that IBM is chipping away at HP’s leadership in the high-performance computing market for life sciences, but it’s safe to assume that Big Blue drove a hard bargain to claim Celera’s business. Anne-Marie Derouault, director of business alliances and distribution channel management at IBM, who called the win “a formidable reference for us,” admitted that the company offered a “discounted deal” on the $24 million list price for the 12 p690s, but declined to disclose further details.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of this deal,” said Derouault, who added that a key aspect of the agreement, although one still under discussion, is a collaborative R&D and marketing effort. The companies have 90 days to work out the details of this part of the partnership, which could range from joint research projects between Celera scientists and IBM’s computational biology research group to marketed solutions that would bundle the Celera Discovery System or other software with IBM hardware.
IBM also stands to gain from a hefty service contract as it works with Celera and ABI to port its existing applications to the new systems. It is missing out on one aspect of Applera’s new infrastructure, however, as the former genomics giant chose to go with EMC for its storage requirements.
For EMC, which beat both HP and IBM for the storage component of the deal, the agreement is “a significant strategic win,” said Roberta Katz, EMC’s director of global life sciences. The flexibility of EMC’s system sets it apart from other storage solutions, she noted, a feature that Celera demanded as it continues to revamp its business model.
End of the Alpha-Celera Era
Celera’s decision to change directions last year was the first of several steps that led to last week’s infrastructure overhaul. In line with its new focus on drug discovery, the company began reevaluating its computational demands and began accepting bids for an upgraded IT system in the last quarter of 2001.
According to Paul Fingerman, vice president of infrastructure at Applera, the company still doesn’t know exactly what its computational requirements may be as it plows ahead into the next phase of its life cycle. However, he noted, “We knew we wanted to configure the system in such a way that as our computational requirements evolve, the data center can evolve with them.”
Flexibility was also a necessity because the same infrastructure would have to support both the research-heavy drug discovery activities of Celera and the Knowledge Business at ABI — opposite sides of the computational coin, according to Fingerman. “The knowledge business is very intensive in terms of data serving, helping our customers manage their workflows and e-commerce requirements. The therapeutics initiatives are more computationally intensive — they certainly don’t require small amounts of data. And with this particular vendor selection we have the flexibility to support both those kinds of workloads,” he said.
Noting that the decision to go with IBM and EMC was based on “the best value and performance and evolvability,” Fingerman declined to comment on whether HP’s impending move from the Alpha platform played a part in Applera’s decision to drop its longtime partner.
For the Sanger Institute, which is also changing strategy as it shifts its emphasis from production sequencing to research, the Alpha roadmap was not a concern, according to Phil Butcher, head of IT. “At this time, we’re happy to be on the Alpha chip,” he said. “Obviously we won’t be there in 2005,” he added, due to the phase-out to Itanium, but he pointed out that because the refresh cycle for computational systems is every 18 months, the institute is looking at a few more generations of Alphas, which HP has pledged to support, if not manufacture, through 2009.
Furthermore, Butcher noted, with 64-bit Intel systems looming on the horizon as the de facto standard, “this is not just an HP-Compaq affair.” Other vendors will soon follow HP’s lead, Butcher predicted, “and in the next few months we’ll be reviewing all of our computing needs again.”