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The Buzz at Bio-IT World


By Kevin Davies

June 10, 2008 | There was a buzz and energy on the floor at this year’s Bio-IT World Conference & Expo that hasn’t been in evidence for several years.

So, what else did you expect me to say?! I heard it from lots of people after the show. This year’s event, superbly orchestrated by CHI’s Cindy Crowninshield and her talented team, gave credence to the notion that the challenges and opportunities in corralling life sciences data are spurring new tools and solutions, and that these three days in Boston are the perfect place to share ideas and innovations.

It was apparent in the scores of people attending a pre-conference workshop organized by BioTeam on next-generation sequencing data management and in the 1,500 people who walked the show floor over two days, taking in 75 exhibitors, including a first-time appearance by Google, and a rich array of new product launches. It was apparent in the increased attendance in five parallel conference tracks, and in the more than 220 guests who attended our Best Practices Awards dinner, surpassing our expectations, and the quality of the entries and winners (see next month’s issue). Last but not least, it was clear in the enthusiastic and instantaneous response to a  plenary panel discussion on personal genomics, which could become a regular event at the show.

The IT Insider
One of the undisputed highlights of this year’s meeting was the presentation by BioTeam’s Chris Dagdigian. We first met Dagdigian in 2002, building the data center for an institute at Harvard (See “
Hooking Up Harvard’s Genomic Research Center,Bio-IT World, July 2002). That meeting led to a productive ongoing affiliation between Bio-IT World and BioTeam, our regular “Inside the Box” contributors. “Dags” doesn’t write much these days, however—he’s too much in demand.

Dagdigian warned the audience that he had 60 slides to deliver in 30 minutes, which did not necessarily bode well. But his sharp, authoritative delivery of IT trends, based on the past year of building data centers and IT infrastructures for a host of academic and industry clients, ranked with anything presented at the show. Ten of Dags’ take-home highlights include:

10.       In the “CPU Wars,” it’s “back to benchmarking in 2008.” AMD might have had the edge, but “it’s more difficult to make the Intel/AMD decision.”

9.         “Clever cooling” designs include in-row chilling units and sealed data centers, but the most innovative is the overhead cooling design at the Cornell Liebert XDO, in a midtown Manhattan skyscraper.

8.            Multicores have “wiped out the small-scale cluster market.” The power of medium-sized cluster now resides on a desktop. This represents “a big change in our business… No more small clusters!”

7.         Storage vendors are putting too much emphasis on “bells and whistles,” instead of speed and scalability.

6.            Backups remain the “single biggest nightmare.” Storage is easy, but backup is not. Generally avoid tape, but disk-to-disk is fine for some environments.

5.         Storage virtualization — jumping on the bandwagon now, but still don’t want to pay for it.

4.         Grid computing is “more hassle than it’s worth.”

3.         The “terrifying trend” of terabyte-generating instruments. “We now have individual instruments producing multi-terabytes of data… [Do we] put a [Sun] Thumper in the wet lab?!” Small labs will need 40TB storage at a minimum. “The people selling these instruments are not exactly straightforward about the IT requirements!”

2.         Data triage—throwing away primary data is anathema to research scientists and will be an adjustment.

1.         Cloud computing is “the coolest trend” Dagdigian sees in the field. Amazon’s S3 storage cloud, as an example, “is not hype —it’s worked out wonderfully!” with easy data movement at reasonable cost. Dagdigian and many of his colleagues are independently using the cloud for various projects.

If you missed this year’s show, we invite you to visit www.bio-itworld.com, where we and Cambridge Healthtech Media Group proudly present webcasts (with slides) of all three outstanding keynote talks and the personal genomics panel.

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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