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January 30, 2013

Where SaaS Meets Science

Tiffany Trader

Web-based technologies, such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), were slow to catch on in the science world, but that’s about to change. As this Radar O’Reilly article points out, there is growing momentum for this new approach, called Science-as-a-Service (aka SciAAS).

All the benefits of SaaS enjoyed by business users and consumers – like reduced cost and increased flexibility – are just as attractive to researchers. What’s more, by injecting the best practices of IT into the science process, researchers are free to spend their time on more “mission-critical” endeavors.

As one researcher from the Texas Advanced Computing Center put it, Science-as-a-Service “takes the spotlight off of technology and puts it back onto science.”

This may be a relatively new approach, but there’s already quite the ecosystem forming. As O’Reilly Associate Renee DiResta observes, there are a large number of enterprising startups aiming to “disrupt the slow-moving pace and high cost of research.”

Often times, the founders were themselves researchers motivated out of frustration to create better solutions. “To do this, they’re applying innovative business models traditionally used by B2B and B2C startups – everything from the principles of collaborative consumption to decoupling service workers from their traditional places of employment,” writes DiResta.

This kind of outsourcing is not completely new – contract research organizations (CROs) have been around since the 80s – but it’s occurring on a never-before-seen scale. The list of firms that want to help “make science easier” is longer and more diverse than you might expect. Note the following sampling:

  • Science Exchange is a community marketplace that connects scientists with scientific services.

  • 3Scan (one of the providers listed on Science Exchange) performs Knife-edge scanning “as a service.”
  • Transcriptic and Assay Depot each offer a variety of remote lab services. Transcriptic runs wet labs and Assay Depot does pretty much everything (like Home Depot, get it?)
  • SolveBio, now in private beta, is a cloud-based computational biology platform.
  • Benchling is a platform for life science data management; think “GitHub for biology.”
  • Collaborative Drug Discovery (CDD), an Eli Lilly spinoff, offers a suite of collaborative Web-based tools.
  • P212121 connects smaller lab equipment vendors to potential customers with software that sorts and organizes over 30,000 products daily.
  • Zombal is an online job board that facilitates scientific contract work.

Science-as-a-Service is still an emerging paradigm, but the pace of growth and innovation suggest that this is just the tip of a much larger iceberg.

Related Content:

Taming the Long Tail of Science

Blue Waters Supercomputer to Use Grid-Based File Service

New API Delivers Science as a Service

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