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January 13, 2003 | The availability of massive amounts of computing power has played an important role in the development of Inpharmatica's two products. At one point, the Biopendium production clusters (one at Charlotte Street, the other at Hemel Hampstead) were ranked nos. 5 and 11 in the world, even though they have now fallen to nos. 9 and 16, respectively (see clusters.top500.org). At any given time, Biopendium subscribers can rest assured that some 500 processors, backed up by 5 terabytes of storage, are busy calculating the next update of this product.

Nevertheless, Pat Leach, Inpharmatica's chief information officer, tends to play down the importance of the hardware. "Four years ago, it was important to have some of the biggest clusters and the know-how associated with that. But now our advantage lies more in the deep understanding of the data."

Leach insists that the current computers are essentially off-the-shelf Sun Sparc and Intel processors — there is no Blue Gene-style supercomputer tailored specifically for the gigantic task at hand. The same goes for the Oracle software required for Biopendium; it is the standard, commercially available version.

The current challenge, Leach says, is to ensure that the IT structure is used as efficiently as possible by introducing IT management tools. He would even consider scaling down the compute farm if it turned out that the scientific and commercial goals could be achieved with slightly less processor power. For such considerations, the feedback coming from the Camden wet lab biologists, who use the products heavily, is vital. "They are our key customers," Leach says, "and their feedback is often driving the development of the applications."


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