Cloud Computing in Life Sciences R&D Interview Transcript

Below is an excerpt from an interview in the new Insight Pharma Report, Cloud Computing in Life Sciences R&D.

Todd Smith, PhD
Chief Science Officer
Seattle, WA

Insight Pharma Reports (IPR): Let’s talk about Geospiza’s cloud collaboration with Applied Biosystems.

Dr. Smith: Geospiza has offered cloud-based solutions since its founding in 1997, so this is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing all along.

IPR: Was this more along the wants of grid computing or actually utility computing?

Dr. Smith: Initially it was really about utility. Our customers understand that it is expensive to buy, set up, and maintain computing infrastructure, so we initially offered it for customer convenience. Now, as the applications grow in size and complexity with next-generation sequencing, it’s getting harder to justify the cost and complexity of each lab building out its own data center. In the past year, cloud sales have been outselling traditional on-premises installation 2 to 1.

IPR: Does the Applied Biosciences project involve Amazon or one of its competitors with that sort of complete cloud solution?

Dr. Smith: We’re using a variety of services right now. The way the model really works is that we have a customer who is running a SOLiD or Illumina, and they’re generating data for a scientist on their campus who needs to have that data analyzed. So after the run, they’ll transfer the data to one of our systems where they and their customer have accounts. Then we process that data and they can start exploring it using our interfaces to do the different kinds of analyses they need. It’s pretty straightforward; it’s not that different from having a computer in their laboratory. The difference is that the lab doesn’t have the headaches of managing all of that.

IPR: Have the labs been asking for this, or is it an added feature that’s coming from the commercial side and looking for a market?

Dr. Smith: Yes, but not directly. Many labs simply did not know that delivering data over the cloud was an option. Up to this point, labs have been sending disk drives full of raw data to customers with no analysis tools to do the data transformation. Researchers have been getting stuck with the analysis and are not coming back to the lab to order more services. The cloud/analysis combination enables the experimental work to move forward much more efficiently.

IPR: Do you have a cloud strategy going forward?

Dr. Smith: The cloud has always been very important in our strategy, because in general IT costs certainly can be prohibitive when getting started with next-generation sequencing. So when people try out cloud services and do some experiments, I think they definitely find some scale issues. When they have a data center-size operation, they need to consider accessing someone’s hosted service center versus building their own. I think those are the kinds of things people consider, and we need to consider those things as we mature and increase our business. But I’m going to call them technical implementation issues. How do you offer more services at a lower cost? That’s something we focus a lot of energy on.

IPR: Are you getting involved in cloud data storage?

Dr. Smith: Yes, there’s an appeal to being able to use cloud services for data storage, most importantly for backup and for the infrastructure that goes with maintaining the data. In our cost structure, the way the fees work is transaction-based, so it’s focused on the analysis. But over time, people have to make decisions about how much data they want to accumulate online because, like with everything else, you are using resources and that does have costs associated with it.

IPR: I would imagine that for most of your customers, data security isn’t an overriding concern. It seems in talking to other people that security in the cloud may turn out to be not much more of an issue than it is for operating in-house.

Dr. Smith: If you go to a security seminar today, one thing they’ll tell you is that more attacks occur from within the organization than from without. So you could make the argument that if your data is outside of the organization, it can actually be more secure because not everyone has keys to the car, whereas many more people have them internally. Moreover, I do all my banking over the Internet, and my credit cards are on the Internet too. So Internet commerce will help us solve that problem. If we can’t trust the Internet, a major piece of our economy will break.

The complete transcript of Insight Pharma Reports’ interview with Dr. Smith is included in the report Cloud Computing in Life Sciences R&D.