Intel eyes the bio network

There are four big targets for computer companies when it comes to networked and clustered computers: energy; manufacturing, financial services – and bioinformatics, according to John Davies, general manager of eBiz channels and marketing at Intel.

“We don’t have special-purpose aspirations, but know we can apply the lessons we’ve learnt in other areas to the scientific and medical industries,” he said. “Using standard rather than special-purpose equipment is easier – and it makes economic sense.”

Davies is on a world mission to convince biotechs, health science companies and research institutes that moving away from special-purpose, custom-built computing platforms is the way to go in terms of cost effectiveness. And in connectivity too.

He cited the opportunities offered by newly introduced technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and tagging; RFID systems could open up a whole new world for drug companies, Davies said.

“The use of RFID tagging on drugs would be a major step forward, a huge opportunity for the drug companies to track and dispense products. It’s not simply about using massive computing power – although that is certainly part of it – it’s about integrating whole systems to make workflow practices smoother, more efficient and less costly.”

Davies said that most of Intel’s current work was on porting software systems from previous, large-scale installations to Linux.

“Life science business is smallish for us today, but it is growing very rapidly, and needs more and more high-performance demands to be met. Even the best supercomputers cannot address the needs of the [gene discovery] researchers right now, and we have to understand this kind of power will probably one day be needed in clinics,” he said.

He was adamant Intel does not intend to move into the box-shifter market, however, and will concentrate on being an enabler rather than a retailer; and will leave selling hardware to those closer to the cutting edge of hardware installation.

“We will be concentrating on making more muscular chips to help drive computing power up, and we will work with others to make sure our clustering and porting technologies are available to help people move to our platform. We see ourselves as a software enabler, and a building block supplier. All this helps us sell more chips,” Davies said.

He said the company was currently concentrating on centres of leadership within the biotech industry such as Scandinavia, Switzerland, the US, the UK – and Australia.

“We are trying to develop a scientific computing ecosystem across the world. If we can make sure they all have software that can talk, they will be able to establish and develop their own forums, to time-share and have open and effective access to data,” he added.

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