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Drug Company Taps IBM, AMD for Computing

AMD's Opteron chip may have some new bragging rights in the drug-testing sector, thanks to deal between IBM and pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb.

The health care products company Tuesday said it would be using a low-cost supercomputer cluster from IBM in order to help its research division accelerate early discovery of new compounds that are essential for bringing new drugs to market.

In what they are calling the first arrangement of its kind for the pharmaceutical industry, the supercomputing system is being powered by AMD's latest Opteron microprocessor, which provides 64-bit processing power but also runs 32-bit applications.

IBM said traditionally, the scientific community has required high-powered, high-cost supercomputers to handle the complex calculations involved in mapping out new medicines. Opteron, which is not necessarily positioned as a high-end microprocssor, apparently fit the bill for Bristol-Myers Squibb: sufficient power but at less cost than traditional systems.

Rick Vissa, executive director, PRI Informatics, Bristol-Myers Squibb, said IBM's Opteron-powered e325 is also configured to run the company's 32-bit Linux applications. He said the server cluster of 64 IBM eServer 325 systems was chosen because of its ability to run both 32 and 64-bit Linux applications -- both of which are common throughout the scientific community.

Mark Shearer, vice president, IBM eServer products, said IBM's approach is to provide customers choice about processing speeds so they are not forced to migrate their 32-bit applications to 64-bit systems if they don't have to.

Company officials say the deal could represent a shift by major supercomputer customers away from the costly supercomputers they have maintained in order to run complex equations to the lower-cost "supercomputing cluster" approach. AMD's Opteron chip is also being used in some key government installations including supercomputers being built at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory.

Financial terms of the contract were not released.