Apple outlined its strategy last week to win the hearts and minds of scientists during a presentation to select attendees of
BioIT World Conference + Expo in Boston, Mass. Apple’s vice president of software technology and director of SciTech marketing took the stage of a conference room at the Hynes Convention Center along with a biotech researcher who’s actively using Apple products to do his job.
Bud Tribble, Apple’s Vice President of Software Technology, outlined in broad strokes why the Mac appeals to life scientists. Tribble referenced a survey from The Scientist magazine that said 30 percent of Life Sciences users have Macs — considerably higher than the numbers attributed to Apple’s share of the general PC market. Tribble suggested that Apple’s adoption in the science space is an increasing trend, if anecdotal evidence suggested by the proliferation of PowerBooks at biotech conferences is any indication.
Tribble said that Apple’s ability to appeal to scientists dovetails with the company’s efforts in the creative markets, since the same core technology that Apple uses to make media products work quickly also can help speed scientific computation. Mac OS X’s UNIX underpinnings and Apple’s emphasis on supporting best-in-class open source software also hold great appeal to scientists who, up until now, may have avoided the Mac platform.
Apple’s push in scientific computing
Apple Workgroup Cluster for Bioinformatics is a turnkey solution intended for researchers in higher learning, science and research markets looking to create small to mid-sized workgroup clusters. Apple’s director of SciTech Marketing, Liz Kerr said that the new cluster solution is the first in a series of solutions that Apple will produce for the SciTech market.
One case in point, Kerr said, is Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind & Behavior. The center recently installed a 64-node cluster of Xserve G5s, selecting Apple’s solution over an AMD-based system running Linux. The UNIX architecture and Apple’s support of standards-based open source software made the difference, according to Kerr.
Apple’s assertion that life scientists are increasing considering and using the Mac platform is also supported by registration information for Apple’s
Worldwide Developers Conference. Kerr explained that developers in the scitech field registering for the event has dramatically increased over the past few years — from only a handful in 2001 to 75 in 2002 and 300 in 2003.
Registration has just recently gotten underway for WWDC 2004, so Apple doesn’t yet have a breakdown for this year’s show. Kerr told MacCentral that she expects that many scitech developers will be drawn to WWDC 2004 as well.
Apple will continue to reach out to the science market, according to Kerr. Shortly before BioIT World began, Apple posted a new
Science area on its Web site outlining some of its efforts and the efforts of others using its technology.
Case in Point
Genzyme Drug Discovery Group Senior Fellow
Dr. Scott Sneddon closed Apple’s presentation with a case study involving his own work with Macs. Sneddon developed his own drug discovery database — a Web-based system called Disco. Genzyme’s researchers use Disco to develop new drug compounds.
The Disco database was developed 9 years ago and used to run on an SGI-based Irix server system. Sneddon had budgeted about $35,000 for the system, but he said that Apple’s configuration ultimately cost only about $20,000 to assemble from start to finish.
Now Disco is running on an Xserve G4 cluster that offers 15 times the performance as the SGI system it replaced. Sneddon had one small but enviable difficulty when the Xserve cluster first went online: The Xserve cluster was so fast, researchers were convinced it was broken. Their queries were being processed so rapidly the users thought their Web browsers were reading data out of their own local caches rather than receiving new data over the network.
Sneddon said that scientists are drawn to Macs for the same reason many artists are. Science is ultimately a creative endeavor, Sneddon said, and Macs are easy to use tools that can get the job done.