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Cloud Computing for Life Sciences

November 11, 2009 | Two years ago, Bio•IT World first reported on a little-known topic of “cloud computing,” when former BioTeam consultant Mike Cariaso recounted his early experiments with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). It turned out his colleagues were also dabbling with the cloud, and they soon realized that this was more than just a cute toy for computer geeks.

Today, many life science and pharma organizations have had the same epiphany. Cloud computing provides an opportunity to rent immense high-performance computing capability, when it is needed. Rather than building and maintaining their own HPC cluster, or “leasing” an on-demand HPC service offered by the likes of IBM and Sun Microsystems, the cloud can be tapped as needed. As made popular by Amazon, the resource is affordable (billing is typically hours times number of CPUs) and remarkably efficient. A job that might take 40 hours on a 10-node cluster could instead be run on a 400-node cloud cluster in 60 minutes—for the same cost.

For the past 12 months or more, early adopters have been blazing a path into the cloud, or as hype-averse Chris Dagdigian puts it, “the ‘C’ word.” The appeal is evident. “Cloud computing has legs, lots of legs,” says BlueArc’s James Reaney. “It will only continue to get better.” However, Reaney is less bullish about cloud storage. “Joe User may trust some Amazon with his photos, but companies will never trust the cloud with their data,” he says. Such sentiment is widely expressed, but Dagdigian argues that cloud security concerns are overblown. And many other companies are supplying help with scheduling, storage, and potential competition to Amazon, including Cycle Computing, IBM, Isilon, Microsoft, Nirvanix, Platform Computing, Sun, and Univa UD.

This special Bio•IT World report on cloud computing contains eight reports and interviews that hopefully convey the opportunities, results, strategies, and challenges associated with the cloud. Chris Dagdigian (BioTeam) [p 24] provides an expert overview through the complexities of utility computing. Guy Coates (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) [p 27] describes the genome center’s early foray into the cloud. Allison Proffitt reports on how big pharma companies [p 31], including Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer are having early success in cloud computing, while Amylin CIO Steve Phillpott [p 35] shares his positive experiences deploying various applications into the cloud.

From the vendor perspective, there are interviews with Mike Naimoli discussing Microsoft Azure [p 34]; Paul Papas and Stuart Henderson on IBM’s clinical cloud [p 36]; Jason Stowe on Cycle Computing’s scheduling capability [p 28]; and Sujai Krishnan (CEO, ParaScale) [p 40] on cloud storage.

We hope you enjoy this special report and welcome your feedback.

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