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Biotechs Look Into Clouds for High-Powered Computing Services

AIS – AMERICAN INTERNET SERVICES

CEO: Tim Caulfield.

Financial data: Not disclosed.

No. of employees: 75.

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Investors: Seaport Capital, Viridian Investments, and DuPont Capital Management.

Headquarters: Kearny Mesa.

Year founded: 1989.

Company description: Provider of computer co-location data center, cloud and connectivity services.

What makes the company innovative: Cloud computing services targeted to life sciences and biotech industries that can use higher computing capacity when needed, and at lower cost.

As drug discovery and life sciences companies delve deeply into dissecting the mysteries of human genomes, they’re using faster and more powerful computers.

Given the trend of many of these businesses to outsourcing non-core operations, it was inevitable that cloud-based computing services such as San Diego-based AIS (American Internet Services) would move into this space.

The firm that was founded in 1989 was already providing computer co-location backup and storage services, operating from an 80,000-square-foot facility in Kearny Mesa formerly occupied by Computer Sciences Corp.

In June, AIS launched its cloud-based IT services that enable companies to outsource certain computer functions and access their internal networks and data through an outside secure connection. The IT provider also maintains the networks and all the security firewalls that go with them.

This past week AIS took the cloud model a step further, launching a software-as-a-service geared entirely to the biotech and life sciences industry. Specifically the new service called ClearCompute is aimed at businesses engaged in researching human genomes.

Sizable Market

Steve Wallace, AIS chief technology officer, said the market for the higher computing power AIS offers is considerable, both here and in other parts of the nation where human genome research continues to expand.

The genomic sequencing research involves analyzing terabytes of data. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes. Most home personal computers may have a capacity of 500 gigabytes, he said.

“The demand for high computing capacity means these companies have to buy more servers or move onto the cloud computing model that lets them dial up resources when they need them,” he said.

Brian Wood, vice president of marketing for AIS, said the sequencing process for human genome research is long and complex, and employs the type of infrastructure that’s beyond the reach of many biotechs, which tend to be smaller companies.

“To do this type of research takes a massive, incredible amount of computing power,” Wood said. “You’re not just using 20 servers, it’s more like 200 servers.”

Using the cloud model, companies can both access the computing capacity when they need it, and reduce their expenses, Wood said.

Clients Weigh Commitment

AIS hasn’t signed any biotech clients for ClearCompute yet, but several firms are “kicking the tires,” Wood said.

The cost for the basic cloud service, called BusinessCloud1, varies depending on the pricing arrangement, but a minimum commitment is $300 per month, and a typical bill for companies using the service so far ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 monthly, Wood said.

AIS has about 600 total clients, including 24 who are using its cloud-based IT services, he said.

The difference with ClearCompute is that service comes with pre-loaded applications that are commonly used by genomics researchers, he said.

“It’s akin to the difference of coarse filtering and fine filtering,” Wood said. “We’re offering the coarse level of sequencing applications.”

Min Lee, chief executive for Diagnomics Inc., a genomics research firm, is a client of AIS’ cloud services, using the company’s computer capacity to conduct human genome research that involves analysis of 6 billion base pairs of DNA.

“If we had to buy all the hardware to scale up for doing this it would be quite expensive,” Lee said.

The firm that was founded in 2011 and has eight employees received about $1 million in angel investment; it’s in the process of raising $3 million to $10 million, Lee said.

Wood said AIS is the only business offering the specialized cloud service geared to the biotech industry in the Southwest region, but there are other competitors offering the services elsewhere.

AIS is privately held and doesn’t reveal revenue. It has 75 employees and operates six data centers, five of which are in San Diego, and one in Phoenix.

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