By Bio-IT World Staff
November 8, 2013 | One year after the release of DNASTAR’s first BaseSpace app — the SeqMan NGen app for de novo bacterial genome assembly — the company has announced a significant upgrade of its product line within Illumina's BaseSpace cloud. An expanded SeqMan NGen app will allow either de novo or reference-guided assemblies of genomes from any organism, not just bacteria, and introduce preliminary analytics capabilities like RNAseq, ChIPseq, and SNP calling. The newly-released SeqMan Pro app, meanwhile, will provide a more advanced layer of analytics for assembled genomes, adding filters to identify and annotate variants and regions of interest. These apps are pay-for-use analytical tools, representing DNASTAR's first commercial presence in BaseSpace. Both apps went live on BaseSpace today after clearing Illumina's quality control process, and are now available to all users of MiSeq and HiSeq instruments connected to the cloud.
Selecting samples to analyze in the new SeqMan apps. Image credit: DNASTAR
DNASTAR has been a dominant player in desktop software for sequence assembly and analysis since the 1980s, but only in the past year has the company come to embrace cloud computing as a part of the analysis ecosystem. When the original SeqMan NGen app was placed on BaseSpace in November of 2012, DNASTAR had never before offered cloud functionality on any platform. The original SeqMan NGen took a single function from DNASTAR’s flagship Lasergene Genomics Suite, and offered it for free as an experimental foray into the cloud. “Most of the people who have tried our app on BaseSpace have been new to DNASTAR,” Tom Schwei, the company’s Vice President, CFO and General Manager, told Bio-IT World. “That’s good news. That’s exactly what we hoped to get from it, which is exposure to people who weren't otherwise thinking about DNASTAR software.”
Now, a year later, DNASTAR's expanded presence in BaseSpace is only a small piece of the company's rapid move into the cloud. This May, the latest update of Lasergene introduced full cloud functionality through the Amazon Cloud, allowing users to easily collaborate on projects long-distance, store their data securely off-site, and access Lasergene tools through mobile devices. This functionality now comes bundled automatically with the Lasergene software. “We view [the cloud] as complementary, not a replacement for desktop licenses,” says Schwei, who notes that the Lasergene suite remains an all-inclusive, end-to-end analytical pipeline, and not the piecemeal, application-based solution that Illumina envisions arising in the cloud.
Still, the pair of SeqMan apps released today flirt with a new business model for DNASTAR. Like the original SeqMan NGen app, they lift their operations directly from Lasergene; but unlike their predecessor, the new SeqMan NGen and SeqMan Pro apps are pay-for-use, charging BaseSpace customers for daily, weekly, or monthly access. They also make it easier than Lasergene to mix and match workflows with other developers' software, by moving users' data seamlessly between BaseSpace apps. This integration into the pick-and-choose BaseSpace pipeline is largely mandated by Illumina, which requires app developers to make any data generated with their tools fully transferable within the BaseSpace cloud. Ultimately, the chance to reach out directly to Illumina's massive customer base proved too promising to pass up. “It's an opportunity for us to generate some new revenue, some new leads,” says Schwei. “If [the customers] want to work on BaseSpace, then we want to be there.”
For the time being, DNASTAR’s apps will find it easy to coexist with the more comprehensive Lasergene suite, striking a balance between offering a flexible set of tools not available elsewhere on BaseSpace, and reserving significant functionality for those who purchase desktop licenses. “We're ahead of the game right now,” says Schwei. “Most of our customers aren't yet that interested in the cloud – but I think that in the next year or two, we’re going to see some more movement there, and we're well prepared for it. All our software is up there, and will continue to be there for the foreseeable future.” If end-to-end enterprise software remains the gold standard for genetic analysis, DNASTAR's apps should provide a valuable point of contact with new customers. And if the cloud ecosystem proves more disruptive to the desktop model, this early entry into BaseSpace might be the edge DNASTAR needs to stay competitive in a new informatics arena where niche developers find it easy to add niche tools to a comprehensive pipeline.