Biotech industry boosts tech spend

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In its latest push into the burgeoning life sciences IT market, IBM Australia has scored a $1million deal to supply a Linux supercomputer cluster platform and software tools to a biotechnology research centre in Victoria.

The Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC), a consortium of six state universities, believes the cluster will provide training for its members and the bioinformatics community, while reducing research and development cycle times and the need for these tools to be purchased by upfront.

Under a partnership agreement, VPAC has taken delivery of an IBM Linux based supercomputer cluster, as well as a series of bioinformatics software tools including sequencing tools, a biodictionary, and pattern matching algorithms used in computational drug discovery and design via a central hub.

In addition, IBM has provided VPAC with a Life Sciences solution, offering additional capacity for VPAC's 200 strong subscription base, as well as an IT partner who will assist the inhouse team of 15 scientists.

VPAC's chief executive, Bill Appelbe said the partnership will secure members' access to “one of the largest supercomputing platforms in Melbourne,” sophisticated computing tools, and a collaboration with IBM's network of six worldwide bioinformatics research centres.

IBM claims this deal is the latest in a number of wins for the vendor with Linux-on-Intel based computing clusters for life sciences work since introduced last year.

Life sciences has become an active market for IT vendors in recent times, particularly for blade servers and computing cluster technology. Earlier this month Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) announced it installed blade servers from Dell Computer in its bio-informatics facility, which performs research on new drugs and crop strains (see story).

“Biotechnology is the new growth area after the dotcom era, in terms of technology spends. It is has a long growth ahead of it,” Appelbe said. “There has been aggressive purchasing in the South East Asia asia, particularly on hardware.” However, Appelbe added that in some cases in the area, there has been an over capacity on hardware.

Rather than building a cluster inhouse and facing maintenance and support issues, Appelbe said the life sciences industry is increasingly looking to vendors that can provide ready-made systems and a partnership approach.

“Biotechnology is the next big thing, not just from an IT perspective, but it will change mankind's ability to control his destiny,” Dr David Dembo from IBM's Asia Pacific Life Sciences Channel team said.

Tony Palanca, manager at IBM Australia Life Sciences, said: "Australia's scale and the global competitive environment in the Life Sciences market makes collaboration critical between local organisations. It is the only way to build capacity."

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