Meanwhile, bioinformatics isn't stopping at generating the large amounts of data created by genetic research. The study of proteins, proteomics, will call for even more storage as it creates an order of magnitude more data than gene sequencing, according to Rabe.
At IBM, life sciences are also driving many requirements to the company's data management and storage technologies, according to Sharon Nunes, director of solution development for life sciences. For example, a project with Merck & Co. Inc. resulted in a database technology called DiscoveryLink, DB2-based middleware that allows users to pose one natural-language query against a variety of databases and data sources, and get back one result. In talking about this to customers in retail, banking and government, Nunes reported, "every one of them, their eyes would light up, and they would say, 'Wow, this would be tremendous.'" According to Nunes, IBM's software group has seen what the life sciences group has done with DiscoveryLink and is working on making the technology more generic, by developing a number of more generic data wrappers. A data wrapper is code that encapsulates a data package so that it can be shared among different platforms.
Database giant Oracle has jumped on the life-sciences bandwagon, with Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Larry Ellison heralding the company's commitment to the field. Jon Simmons, vice president of Oracle Life Sciences, confirms that this market will certainly have an effect on Oracle's foundation database technology that will be seen in Release 10, although he declined to elaborate in detail.
"The challenge is the huge amount of data," Simmons said. "How do you manage it, get intelligence from it? We've got quite a few initiatives under way relating to storage, access, mining. How do you handle these on the scale that's being demanded?" He called Oracle's Real Application Clusters (RAC) a "perfect fit" for such problems, and said that life sciences customers are consequently driving his company to continue developing RAC and scalability.
An example of the work Oracle is doing in life sciences that may have an impact on other kinds of customers, Simmons said, are investigations having to do with search algorithms from BLAST (The Basic Local Alignment Search Tool used in genetics and proteomics) that might ultimately benefit logistics and shipping companies.
Information security is another area where life sciences customers are seen as having the most demanding requirements, even more so than traditionally security-conscious users such as financial institutions. Nunes characterizes the pharmaceutical industry as "really paranoid" about sending queries over the Internet to government database, thanks to patent laws that could be read as equating such a query as publication and thus starting the clock ticking on when a patent application must be filed.