Biotech data merges onto UC San Diego's Big Data 'freeway'

A bugaboo in the Big Data world has been the capacity of networks to transport large amounts of data from genomics and other studies. To tackle the problem, the University of California, San Diego has turned on a new optical computer network that can handle the massive data sets with which its scientists and their distant collaborators work, the New York Times blog reported.

Illumina ($ILMN) and other DNA sequencing providers have managed to shrink the time needed to decode a genome to about a day. Crude as it sounds, however, to move the data from cutting-edge sequencers from point A to point B, genomics researchers often resort to shipping the information via FedEx. Yet biotech pioneers such as Patrick Soon-Shiong and now the UCSD researchers have made strides in creating networks to rapidly transport genomic data.

As the NYT's blog reported, researchers from the university's San Diego Supercomputer Center have unveiled "Prism," a network with optical switch tech from Arista Networks that aims to move data at 100 billion bits per second, a major leap in speed from the university's 10 billion bit network in use for nearly a decade. Its genomics researchers are expected to share the new network with others dealing in Big Data such as climate scientists and physicists.

The effort follows biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong's takeover of the National Lambdarail with $100 million in 2011, a move that is allowing him to advance a national fiber optic network that serves cancer researchers and treatment specialists and enables data on analyzed tumor samples to be shared in mere seconds rather than waiting days for the mail system to deliver the information.

Still, connecting to the network comes with hefty costs for biotech outfits investing in genomics studies. For instance, Cambridge, MA-based startup Warp Drive Bio, which outsources microbial genome sequencing for its discovery effort, has relied on the mail system to transport its data, CEO Alexis Borisy told me late last year. He's surely not alone.

- check out the NYT's blog