Victoria wants grunt for gene research boxes

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The Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) is preparing to spend $3 million to $4 million on a new advanced computing infrastructure to support gene research and environmental modeling.

The department has issued a call for expressions of interest as it seeks to turbo-charge its underpowered systems.

Following an extensive review of resources, NRE is now "seeking to make enhancements" to its existing computing platforms covering Bioinformatics - generally research into gene and proteins - and landscape and catchment modeling (LCM).

As an organisation, NRE has a strong presence in regional Victoria with 17 institutes engaged in research in agriculture, minerals, energy and land management, as well as marine and freshwater research.

In recent years the NRE has developed considerable expertise in the bioinformatics and LCM areas, which are considered as two research fields with strong growth potential.

The department had identified bioinformatics and LCM as areas of greatest potential economic reward for the state, and said that without adequate advanced computing facilities, the state risked falling behind "world class" research standards.

NRE had originally sought the advice of the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC) consulting group - a conglomeration of education and commercial interests - to undertake a business requirements analysis and to devise a path toward upgrading its systems.

After conducting a series of workshops, VPAC had put forward an 'ideal' solution to NRE - a plan that was subsequently rejected as being beyond NRE's financial capacity. The costs associated with rigging the required connectivity between institutes was regarded as too great a recurring expense.

After the VPAC exercise, the department is chasing expressions of interest from outside, asking interested parties to focus priority attention on three principal research centres: its Bundoora Plant Technology Centre, the Victorian Institute of Animal Science at Attwood, and the Centre for Land Protection Research at Bendigo.

The department wants proposals that can deliver substantial computing power with a simple expansion path, and systems that limit communications costs. It is also seeking new application software - particularly in database management - to cover a variety of research objectives, as well as management software.

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