“A few weeks ago [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer called Linux a cancer,” Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann recounted, “and that inspired me to contact people at the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health, and a variety of other leading lights in the life sciences area, and everywhere I turned there was tremendous support and enthusiasm for Red Hat Linux.”
Tiemann and Red Hat are hoping to make the most of this support of Linux and other open source solutions in life science computing. With last month’s launch of an open source consulting practice, and this month’s launch of a PostgreSQL-based Red Hat Database, Teimann said the company has identified the life sciences as a key market for its future business.
“We see life sciences as one of the top three technical computing markets, and we see technical computing as actually having the highest percentage of Linux deployments,” said Tiemann. With that in mind, “We’re looking to take some of our higher-performance and higher-scalability capabilities more explicitly into the life sciences market.”
While Red Hat may not have to convince many life science IT practitioners of the benefits of open source, the company may have to sweet-talk some entrenched open source do-it-yourselfers into working with a vendor. A large portion of biotech and pharma bioinformatics departments already run Linux, but Red Hat’s only client in the sector so far has been Incyte Genomics, which used Red Hat Linux to develop its compute cluster.
“For a long time, people have been using Linux behind closed doors and not really taking advantage of the fact that they can have a relationship with a vendor,” Tiemann said. In response, Red Hat plans to “reach out and touch” more of the people in the life sciences market “in the spirit of, What can we better do together? Not, How can you pay us more money.”
Teimann said the company’s newly launched consulting staff is taking this collaborative philosophy on the road when contacting potential clients, and Red Hat may also play a role in the well-established open source bioinformatics development community.
In addition, Teimann sees the company’s newly launched Red Hat Database as a useful tool for bioinformatics developers. Not only is it more cost effective than an equivalent Oracle database, Teimann said, but it offers unique capabilities due to its GiST (generalized search tree) structure. For example, Teimann noted, Red Hat Database would be useful for performing multidimensional queries that would not be possible with standard SQL.
Stuart Jackson, director of bioinformatics at Incyte, said the company looked at other Linux vendors when building its cluster, but was won over by Red Hat’s automated installation capability, Kickstart.
While Incyte’s large data center and staff of system administrators has precluded the need for further system support from Red Hat, Jackson surmised that, “For a smaller organization that might not have the same IT resources, I think that Red Hat’s commercial services would be extremely valuable.”
Tiemann said the Red Hat consulting group is in contact with several potential life science clients.