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SGI Links with BioTeam to Offer INquiry Informatics Suite for SMP Architecture

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SGI and bioinformatics consulting firm the BioTeam have partnered to develop a new version of BioTeam's iNquiry biocluster package, which comes with more than 170 bioinformatics applications, for SGI's Linux-based Altix system.

The SGI port of the package, called iNquiry SMP, takes advantage of the shared-memory architecture of the Altix system, and "opens up a different type of market" for the software, according to Stan Gloss, managing director of the BioTeam. To date, iNquiry has been targeted for smaller-scale "personal" or "departmental" clusters, Gloss said, adding that the new version enables users "to run applications that may need access to large memory" — tasks like genome-to-genome comparisons and large-scale sequence assembly — "that can't be done in the smaller cluster market."

Michael Athanas, a BioTeam co-founder who led the porting project, said that it was "relatively easy" to adapt iNquiry to the new architecture because "the common denominator was Linux." He said the scalable SMP architecture is "unique compared to most things out there," and serves as "a wonderful development environment" for bioinformatics.

The software is expected to benefit SGI as well, according to Dan Stevens, SGI's life and chemical sciences market manager. "SGI customers have traditionally been technical people," he said, "but we're finding that scientists want to have access to capability computing who don't want to spend two years learning how to use a command-line [interface]." Stevens said that iNquiry SMP's web interface will allow biologists to open a window in an Altix server "and just point to the files they want to analyze and the applications they want to use."

SGI has traditionally tuned a number of bioinformatics applications to run on its own architecture — so called HTC (for high-throughput computing) versions of Blast, HMMer, FastA, ClustalW, and Wise2. These applications, which the company has made freely available to its hardware customers, are now directly accessible through iNquiry SMP, Stevens said.

INquiry also offers a SOAP interface that allows users to plug in workflow tools like Taverna, InforSense's KDE, and SciTegic's Pipeline Pilot (see article on Pipeline Pilot's new bioinformatics offering this issue).

Stevens said that iNquiry SMP can be used with the Altix 3000 or Altix 350, and that it will also be available for "future Altix-based systems." He declined to disclose further details about these upcoming products.

Gloss said that that the pricing for iNquiry SMP is the same as for the original version of the package: $4,995 for academic customers and $14,995 for commercial customers, for unlimited users and CPUs.

Citing a quiet period in the run-up to SGI's quarterly earnings report, Stevens said he was unable to provide specific sales projections for Altix systems running iNquiry SMP. However, he said, "We think it will be a growth engine for current and future systems."

Stevens said that SGI has just started talking to customers about iNquiry, and trained its sales force on the product last week. "We've already seen interest from multiple users," he said.

As for BioTeam, the search is on for yet another computing platform. "We're always on the lookout for cool new architectures," said Gloss. "There are several other platforms that we hope to port [iNquiry] to."

— BT

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