Google and Cancer, AKA, that is not a small number

A presentation at the Google I/O developers conference blew my mind today.  While the videos from I/O conferences are always fun to watch, the particularly mind-explody bit for me was the release of Google Compute Engine.  They showcased the technology by launching a 600000 core cluster in a matter of minutes. That is not a small cluster.  That is, decidedly, the opposite of a small cluster. Then the cool stuff started.

They used it to perform, in a mere matter of seconds, an all-pairs gene expression analysis (an extremely important tool in understanding cancer).  I’m a systems biologist. I work everyday with computers, big computers, to try and grapple with understanding cancer. So, as someone in-the-know, let me be clear.  This. Is. Epic.

The Compute Engine is Google’s response to Amazon Elastic Cloud.  So far, Google’s hardware as a service options have been primarily related to App Engine (at least by user number).  I’m just starting to learn the basics of this piece of tech. You can see one of my early webapps at helloworld.axiomofcats.com  (Doesn’t work anymore after changes to my website :-/ …. built as part of the Udacity course on web application development).  So far my experiences with it have been excellent.  It just works.

I hope the compute engine is similarly a pleasure to work with.  Time will tell (once I get that developer invite I requested). Based on the talk that introduced it, I have high hopes.  You can see that talk below. Jump forward to 35:50 for the Compute Engine and systems biology part.

I encourage you to learn more about the work of the Institute of Systems Biology.  You might also get a kick out of  the all pairs significance explorer (the computation done in the talk is what powers this).

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