Sun Microsystems is adding to a line of off-the-shelf bioinformatics boxes that it began building this March with the launch of its Starter Cluster for Bioinformatics [BioInform 04-05-04].
Loralyn Mears, Sun Microsystems’ segment manager for life sciences market development, told BioInform last week that two new bundled solutions are now on the market, with an additional two more slated for release by the end of this year or early in 2005.
The first such package combines Geospiza’s Finch Sequencing Center with several hardware options: A Sun Blade 1500 Sparc IIIi workstation running Solaris; a V20z AMD Opteron server running Linux or Solaris; or a V60 and V65 Intel Xeon server running Linux or Solaris.
Mears said that the package starts at $13,995 — a price that Sun and Geospiza claim to be about one-tenth the cost of a custom-built solution — and that the first 50 customers will get a free server. A larger version based on the Sun Fire V440 server starts at $37,000.
The second new package, Mears said, is a scaled-down version of the Starter Cluster that is targeted toward customers who are not yet ready for a “bar fridge”-sized machine. The system includes Incogen’s VIBE bioinformatics workflow software pre-installed on a Sun Java workstation at a starting price of $6,495.
The two upcoming packages have grown out of Sun’s ongoing “tunathon” activities, Mears said, in which the company’s engineers work with application providers to optimize their products for Sun’s hardware. Mears said that these bundles will include products from Accelrys and Gene-IT.
In addition, Mears said, Sun is looking to expand its new utility computing effort into the life sciences market. In September, the company announced an initiative to offer customers on-demand computing power for $1 per CPU-hour. CGI (Conseillers et Gastion et Informatique), Sun’s life science IT partner in Canada, is currently working to “verticalize” the utility computing offering for customers in the “pharma belt” around Montreal, Mears said.
With its bioinformatics offering filling out, Mears said that the company is now looking to expand its reach in the life sciences beyond its core customer base. The widespread perception that Sun systems are expensive and that Solaris is difficult to maintain may have been true in the past, she said, but has changed since the company has begun offering Sparc and Solaris in combination with x86 systems and Linux.
The low starting price for its new bioinformatics bundles “should open up the market to customers that were previously shut out,” she said.
While conceding that these bundles are still “boutique solutions,” and that the bioinformatics market is “not highly commoditized,” Mears noted that “there are still more than 13,000 people out there who own ABI sequencers” who may be interested in a Finch-based product.
In addition, she said, as the bioinformatics market has begun to mature, customers are open to the idea of off-the-shelf bundles. “Not everybody is bent on doing it themselves anymore,” she said. The convenience of filling out a single purchase order for the hardware, software, and installation is beginning to take hold, she said.