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By Salvatore Salamone

November 15, 2002 | Life science companies now have several new ways to meet high-performance computing needs. United Devices says it is partnering with an unspecified Fortune 500 company to offer an on-demand grid for companies to outsource  high-performance computing  on a short-term basis. And on the server front, IBM will integrate F5 Network’s BIG-IP Blade Controller, and RLX is releasing a life sciences package that includes a blade server.  

Small life sciences companies “with 50 to 100 employees have the same compute requirements as a large pharmaceutical company,” says Ed Hubbard, CEO of United Devices. And he notes that even large pharmaceutical companies could use additional computing capacity once in a while.

The United Devices  grid will consist of 7,000 high-end PCs, with the typical PC having a 2GHz processor, 256MB of memory, and 20GB of disk space. United Devices says the grid will deliver roughly 19 teraflops (19 trillion floating-point operations per second). That’s the equivalent processing power of more than 300 Sun Microsystems’ Sun Enterprise 10000 servers, according to United Devices.

The outsourced grid service will let life science companies run bioinformatics applications on computers within United Devices’ Fortune 500 partner’s network.

The service is currently in a pilot stage, with an unnamed biotech company conducting tests of the system. The pilot is using the processing power of 600 PCs to run protein sequence analysis routines consisting of large Hidden Markov Model searches.

When the system becomes commercially available later this year, there will be two offerings. A premiere compute service will use a dedicated grid housed in secure data centers. This service will include monitoring of the grid 24/7.

A second offering, dubbed a standard compute service, will use lower-cost computing resources from the same Fortune 500 partner, according to United Devices.

Many life science managers might have concerns about security when using such an outsourced service. “Without knowing all the details about this service, it seems like a variation of some of the larger public grids that have been popping up in academic environments,” says William Alexander, a research scientist at a New Jersey biotech company. “My concern with those public grids has been data security.”

To allay such concerns, United Devices says it will use encryption technology to secure data that passes between the company’s application server and any node on the grid. And all data stored on individual grid nodes will be encrypted so unauthorized users cannot view the data. Additionally, United Devices’ distributed application checks for any tampering of the data stored on a node to ensure data integrity.

United Devices says the commercial version of this outsourced grid on-demand service will be available in the fourth quarter of this calendar year.

Blade Servers Heat Up
While United Devices is talking grids, the RLX and IBM announcements tout blade server clusters as high-performance computing platforms.

RLX recently introduced new hardware called the RLX ServerBlade 1200i and an optional clustering software package for running DNA sequence analysis. “This is an out-of-the-box solution for bioinformatics,” said Mark Watson, product manager for RLX life sciences.

An individual blade server includes a 1.2GHz Pentium III processor, 2GB of memory, and up to 120GB of storage. A total of 168 blades can fit into a standard data center equipment rack. That’s the equivalent of about 175 gigaflops (175 billion floating-point operations per second) of processing power for a full rack, according to industry estimates.

The optional life science software includes Platform Computing’s LSF 5,  the workload management program for clusters and distributed applications. The bundle also includes RLX’s BLAST Cluster Solution and the RLX MPI Compute Cluster Solution. The former is a cluster version of the commonly used DNA sequence analysis program, the latter is a program that helps manage and exchange data in a clustered environment. (For more details,  see Biocluster in a Box, page 98.)

Meanwhile, IBM has announced a partnership with F5 Networks, vendor of intelligent traffic management software. They will combine F5’s BIG-IP Blade Controller software with IBM’s eServer BladeCenter hardware. The  Controller software will virtualize the blades within a cluster and applications  so they  appear as a single unit. This promises to simplify management of the cluster and allow a manager to make optimal use of a blade cluster.


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