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Vendors, Analysts See Surge in Life Science High-Performance Computing

The high-performance computing market for life science users is strong, according to IT vendors at last month’s Intelligent Systems in Molecular Biology conference in Vienna who reported very high interest in their products from meeting attendees.
Backing up this trend is a recent market research update from IDC, which predicts that growth for bioscience high-performance computing applications will outpace that of the overall HPC sector.
According to a presentation at an IDC “breakfast briefing” on June 27, the market for bioscience HPC applications will grow from $5.9 million in 2000 to $2.2 billion in 2010 — a 279 percent gain. The overall HPC market, however, is projected to grow by 142 percent from $5.9 billion in 2000 to $14.3 billion in 2010.
The current overall HPC market stands at around $10 billion, IDC said. 
SGI’s bioscience segment marketing director, Deepak Thakkar, told BioInform that for the first time at an ISMB conference, he saw significant interest in his company’s hardware offerings from a range of delegates.
“They were excited to have a differentiated product,” Thakkar said. “That is across-the-board feedback that we got … They [were] looking for something which is differentiated; something that will address a specific portion of their scientific workflow.”
For SGI, that excitement was actually measurable. Thakkar said the company sold one of its FPGA-enabled Blast appliances at the event. This was atypical for SGI at ISMB, which doesn’t set up its booth as much for transactions as facilitating future sales and networking, he said.
“We sold the very box that was in the booth to one of the pharma customers — not then and there, [but] the deal closed while we were there,” Thakkar said. “We saw a lot of interest for the appliance and we got, I think, a very good share of attendees stopping by the event and [attained] good, quality leads.”
According to IDC, SGI only makes up 1.9 percent of the HPC market, which is dominated by HP and IBM, which hold a 32.8 percent and 29.5 percent share, respectively.
According to Jordan Kirk of IBM’s deep computing division, life science customers responded well to a tutorial that he presented at ISMB on computational biology’s relationship to massively parallel high-performance computing.
The delegates were “very pleased with the way IBM tried to understand their problems rather than try to sell them something,” he said. “We have such a wealth of offerings it’s hard to say ‘this is best for you, take this.’ We got several comments from the people that stopped by the booth [to the effect of], ‘It’s so nice to talk to people about our problems and not just push a piece of hardware at us.’”

“We got several comments from the people that stopped by the booth [to the effect of], ‘It’s so nice to talk to people about our problems and not just push a piece of hardware at us.’”

The response surprised Kirk because IBM presented a mix of architecture, both hardware and software, including the new BlueGene P machine. One challenge for Kirk was writing a new tutorial for the BlueGene P on the spot because the system debuted only a few weeks after the June 1 ISMB filing deadline.
“We could not put the new one in the tutorial materials,” Kirk said. I just added it in and explained to people that’s why they don’t have it, but many people said, ‘Can you send me those charts?’”
Kirk said that the 20 or so attendees for the tutorial included a mix of pharma, academics, and healthcare providers, a fact that was mirrored by SGI’s experience.
Thakkar said he was pleasantly surprised to see that the conference was much more business-focused than in the past. He said he got about 100 “qualified” leads from the event that he was able to pass through his sales channels.
“The conference has matured to a level so that conceptual bioinformatics applications, which were sort of the hotbed of academic research, have now moved further and further downstream into commercial applications such as pharma,” Thakkar said. HPC for life science applications “is no longer a niche product; and it is moving up the channels.”

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