IBM awards MU cluster computer for genomics research

Friday, July 2, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As part of a grant, IBM is giving MU a cluster computer to aid in genomics research in humans, plants and animals.

The cluster computer, which is a group of computers that work as one, will provide additional processing and storage power. Over time, it will help create a "cloud computing environment" — in which computing resources can be shared — that can be accessed by others involved in similar research.

IBM will provide related software and staff to help install the equipment, worth between $175,000 and $200,000, said Gordon Springer, associate professor in the department of computer science and scientific director of the University of Missouri System Bioinformatics Consortium.

Springer wrote the proposal for the grant in February  with Chi-Ren Shyu, director of the MU Informatics Institute. Springer received word from IBM that the grant would be awarded about a month ago.

The grant is unrelated to a service delivery center that IBM will establish in Columbia, IBM spokesman Jeff Tieszen said.

“This is something that we’ve been discussing with Missouri since last fall,” he said.

“Some solution could come out of this that could eventually become a product, but that’s not really the idea," Tieszen said. "We’re trying to work with the University of Missouri to help them conduct the research to tackle some of the problems that they’re trying to tackle.”

IBM worked with MU in 2008 to offer students information technology security and compliance training and partnered with Missouri State University in 2007 to introduce a degree in IT service management. Relationships with universities are important to the company for several reasons, Tieszen said.

“It’s a way to tap into the wealth of talent and resources at the university level and to share research,” Tieszen said.

“Having a shared resource, so we can work together collaboratively is of interest to them," Springer said of IBM. "Plus, we’re educating students who have the potential to become future IBM employees.”

Bioinformatics is the attempt to combine biology and computing to manage the massive amount of data being generated within the biological community, Springer said. The cluster computer provides the bioinformatics consortium with powerful data processors and storage space. It also offers the first opportunity to participate in cloud computing in the area of genomics.

Cloud computing is data sharing and processing that utilizes the Internet. It would allow the consortium to partner with other facilities involved in genomics research.

The consortium currently researches ways to engineer a type of corn that can survive severe drought conditions, detect genetic-level changes in cancer cells and increase reproductive efficiency in livestock, according to news releases from IBM and MU.

The cluster computer includes 64 central processing units, or CPUs, for processing and 24 terabytes, or TBs, of memory. It will be added to the 800 CPUs and 500 TBs that the consortium already possesses, Springer said.

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