If there is a paradigmatic example of a nascent industry that absolutely requires the cloud for success, it is genomics and biological informatics in general. Genomics is one of the most exciting and innovative fields in biotech, and genomics startups are proliferating in an effort to leverage the power that our expansive knowledge of the human genome offers.
Understanding of the human genome has obvious applications in the medical and healthcare industries; from drug development and gene therapy to individually tailored healthcare and lifestyle planning. Just a few years ago the cost of sequencing the human genome was enormous. We all remember the Human Genome Project and the 13 years and billions of dollars that the first sequencing of the complete human genome consumed.
Even during the life of that project, sequencing technology advanced leaps and bounds, and today genome sequencing is relatively accessible and efficient.
But sequencing itself, although a crucial step, isn’t where the real power lies. The business model behind genomics startups relies on insights that are extracted from sequencing data. The sequence itself is just a long data string. The patterns in that string are where the real information lies. Extracting that information and using it for profitable real-world applications is the promise driving the genomics goldrush.
But genomics startups face a problem. The datasets generated by sequencing genomes are enormous, and the pattern recognition algorithms used to gather useful information are computationally intensive. The data that results from genomics analysis may amount to only a few kilobytes, but getting to those kilobytes takes massive processing power and significant amounts of storage.
Traditionally, genomics has been carried out by large research institutions like universities, with the funds to buy and manage large computer clusters — also known as supercomputers.
But a supercomputer is not in the budget of most startups, even those that are well funded. And even if it were sinking a good proportion of a business’s capital into technology that will rapidly become obsolete isn’t wise.
And so genomics startups are turning to the cloud. The ability to quickly deploy elastic clusters of cloud servers is indispensable. Without that ability most genomics startups don’t have a viable business model. The cloud allows genomics startups to deploy specialized software (most of which is open source) on massively scalable infrastructure in very short timeframes. They pay only for the compute and storage they use and avoid the costs of buying, housing, and managing HPC infrastructure.
Genomics is just one way that on-demand, elastic infrastructure deployments in the cloud will change the future of industry. It helps unhitch genomics research from large institutions and bring it into the innovative and disruptive startup world.