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Let the Chips Fall ...

June 12, 2002

In regards to the Dodge Retort on the Alpha chip conundrum (April Bio·IT World), several points need to be considered.

First, the number of Alpha chips in the installations cited in the article totals 1,100 units. Given that Intel currently produces 10 million chips a year, we are talking about a bioinformatics market segment for the Alpha chip of about of about 0.01 percent; this simply does not justify the investment to maintain production. Even if demand were one-hundred- to two-hundredfold higher, the situation would not change.

The article is correct in noting that the entire field of information technology, including bioinformatics, is moving towards off-the-shelf commodity products. However, new technologies such as grid computing also promise to leverage these items extremely efficiently. Is it worth being out of the mainstream?

The battle between IBM and Compaq/HP for the bioinformatics marketplace will be fought with markedly differing strategies. IBM is currently pursuing a roll-up strategy that is both well- financed and carefully planned. However, it is worth considering that the bioinformatics marketplace is still relatively fragmented, and that the "conventional wisdom" as to the market valuation of bioinformatics software has often been highly exaggerated.

As a physician with a master's degree in information systems, it is apparent to this author that the "killer products" may actually be those that cross over from the bioinformatics community to the much larger commercial markets.

James Sorace MD, MS
Department of Pathology, University of Maryland;
Department of Information Systems, University of Maryland-Baltimore County

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