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New Blackstone CEO Adds Thunder to PowerCloud Promotion, Focuses on Solutions

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Shiv Tasker, Blackstone Computing’s new president and CEO, wants to dispel any uncertainty surrounding PowerCloud, the company’s flagship product.

“A lot of what we need to do is package it simply so that our value proposition can be easily understood,” Tasker told BioInform last week, just one month into his new stint at the helm of the Worcester, Mass., company.

Tasker was brought in to replace former president and CEO Brian Ritchie, who is now the company’s vice president of business development. When Ritchie joined Blackstone in June 2001, he promised to make PowerCloud — a distributed computing software application — its cornerstone, effectively guiding the firm away from its consulting roots to a new future as a product-focused company.

While not critical of the path Ritchie chose for Blackstone, Tasker said his plans include “expanding on the strategy very significantly.”

Will this mean building out the service side of the company once again? Tasker didn’t offer many details, but his plan may muddy the waters a bit. “From a business perspective, I personally have never drawn a distinction between whether we are a product company or a service company,” he said. “What we want to be is a solution company, to provide our customers with the right combination of tools and services they may need at any given point and time.”

In a marketplace crowded with distributed computing solutions for life science research, Blackstone will have to differentiate itself from a list of competitors that seems to grow longer every day. The company had a decent jump on the Linux cluster trend that is now common practice in the life science computing market, claiming Pfizer, Biogen, Vertex, and Orchid among its 50 or so compute farm customers. However, with rivals that range from IBM to small consulting firms building one-off custom clusters, Blackstone must find a way to stand out from the rabble.

While tight-lipped about what his future plans entail, Tasker said he’s up to the task. Blackstone “has a key component of what I believe to be the unmet needs of discovery, and a set of investors willing to build the rest of the pieces. It’s the rest of the pieces that I’d like to spend a couple of months on,” he noted.

The company currently has 11 PowerCloud customers, Tasker said, and is in the process of documenting the return on investment each of those customers has experienced. For the next few months, he said, he’ll be working on getting the company’s “ducks in a row” as he firms up strategic plans. “We will be reassembling our marketing department with a slightly different profile,” he noted, but one thing that won’t change is the company’s commitment to the life science market. “We will be laser focused on it,” Tasker said.

Indeed, Tasker’s appointment would indicate that the company was looking to beef up the life science experience at the top of its management team. Before joining the company, Tasker spent four years as president and CEO of Phase Forward, a clinical trials software developer. He joins another new arrival from the life science computing ranks, Michael Savage, former CEO of Molecular Simulations, who was named chairman of Blackstone’s board of directors in August.

Tasker said he left the clinical side of the informatics pipeline to try his hand at the discovery side because “the amount of intellectual excitement is a lot more in discovery.”

Drug discovery “is the wild wooly frontier of science right now,” he added. “So I really wanted to do something in the space.”

— BT

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