Illumina, Leaning on Amazon, Looks to Be Hub of Genomic Computing
[Updated: 11:35 am PT] Illumina wants to be not just a hardware company, but really an integrated hardware/software company that’s the Apple of the genomics business. Now the San Diego-based company is moving that direction, in a bid that could help the genomics community grow, by offering lots of free storage and processing of DNA data from its machines to go with a store full of apps people can buy to help interpret genomics information.
Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) is announcing today that its Basespace computing program is graduating from free beta-test mode into a new line of business. The company is using a “freemium” model in which its customers will get 1 terabyte of free storage of DNA data (about 10 genomes at today’s data compression rates). An extra terabyte will cost $250 per month or $2,000 a year, says Alex Dickinson, Illumina’s senior vice president of cloud genomics.
The Basespace program will also throw in free data processing to align the 3 billion base units of DNA and detect variants in a genome, which typically costs about $1,000 per genome and takes about 48 hours, Dickinson says. Illumina is offering that for free, and says it can do it in about a day, partly through some of its own algorithm improvements for DNA processing, and by leaning heavily on cloud computing infrastructure provided by its partner, Amazon Web Services.
By offering so much storage and processing power for free, Illumina is hoping to broaden the appeal of genomics to more biomedical scientists and physicians who aren’t already fully equipped like the elite sequencing centers, such as the Broad Institute or University of Washington.
As sequencing itself has gotten much faster and cheaper—estimates are that sequences can be generated for $1,000 and a day’s work by year’s end—scientists have been struggling to turn that data into useful knowledge. To help customers sift through it all, Illumina’s vision is to enable customers to sequence a genome, have the data available on cloud servers at the end of a day’s run, and then offer a snazzy app store full of programs third-party vendors offer to help analyze and interpret the results at the click of a mouse.
“We think this will create a rich ecosystem for our customers,” Dickinson says.
The Basespace program is a significant strategic move for Illumina. It’s the market-leading maker of gene sequencers, and has traditionally made its money by selling hardware and consumable chemicals to run its instruments, not on computing. The company isn’t saying how much it has invested in this effort to provide computational support, or how long it expects it will be before it turns from a loss leader into a profit center. But Illumina clearly does see computing becoming an increasingly important part of business, particularly through creating an app store on Basespace.
Just like Apple does on the iPhone and iPad, Illumina plans to take a 30 percent cut of the sales from each of the software apps … Next Page »