CATEGORY: Data Mining & Visualization
REVIEWER: Phillip Stafford, senior scientist for Motorola Life Sciences.
BACKGROUND: Motorola Life Sciences (MLS), a business unit of Motorola, Inc., develops products that enable scientists and healthcare professionals to quickly and accurately analyze DNA, RNA and proteins from living cells. Motorola is applying its core competency in manufacturing high-quality semiconductors, signal processing, microfluidics and embedded systems to making the industry's best biochips for life science research, drug development and clinical diagnostics.
PLATFORMS: Multi-CPU UNIX and Intel platforms, both servers and workstations. S-PLUS 6 runs on Dell Precision 620s, dual Xeon 933 machines with 2GB Rambus memory and 34GB SCSI160 drives.
PROBLEM SOLVED: The MLS statistical informatics team employs a variety of statistical methods in order to merge biological engineering with a rigorous engineering legacy of semiconductor design and manufacture. Motorola utilizes precise, comprehensive analytic methods to measure variability, sensitivity and reproducibility of biochip designs and manufactured products. Insightful's technology provides decision- makers with the best information available to make smart business decisions to quickly optimize design and production processes and stay well ahead of the competition. The research laboratory at MLS provides the statistics team with high-quality expression and genomic data so they can examine the minute variation between individual biochips. In a competitive industry, slight differences in sensitivity and reproducibility can mean the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. Motorola's "Six Sigma" philosophy combined with Insightful's analytic software allows MLS to optimize production quality and design industry-leading biochips for customers.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The high throughput competence of S-PLUS and the ability to manage enormous databases both on local drives and through connectivity with Oracle8i has given us the ability to analyze products immediately after manufacture and provide feedback to our manufacturing department. I use S-PLUS daily for routine reports and new data mining techniques.
STRENGTHS: The most interesting and value-added technologies in Insightful's S-PLUS 6 suite are the built-in extensions to the C++ and Java languages. The custom Java-based graphlets are extremely useful for quickly generating and displaying data over our intranet. Also, the ability to directly query Oracle and Access databases from within the programming language decreases the need for any other software or database connectivity. The robustness of the platform is an important feature that cannot be overlooked. I used S-PLUS 6 on the UNIX side, and am impressed with the Windows version's ability to utilize available resources when called upon. Insightful also created a nice graphical interface that deserves substantial credit.
WEAKNESSES: I believe memory management and program speed are limiting factors. When working at the limit of hardware and software, we encounter spontaneous errors aggravated by Windows' own memory management. There are workarounds, but it is critical to ongoing biological research that we use software that is capable of utilizing large amounts of physical memory and multiple processors, only now being addressed by popular operating systems.
SELECTION CRITERIA: After reviewing competitive products, we selected S-PLUS because it offered a robust platform; flexible software to model and prototype new chip designs quickly and efficiently; a programming environment for analyzing, prototyping, visualizing and integrating analytics into Motorola's production and research infrastructure; advanced charting; and a fairly shallow learning curve with the option to access advanced statistical tools when ready.
DELIVERABLES: With Insightful's technology, we can prototype new designs in minutes. Proprietary predictive models coupled with bioinformatics information have enabled us to screen more gene probes faster and with greater accuracy than before. Specifically we are able to deliver mission-critical information enterprise- wide using Java Graphlets, charts and graphs in JPEG and GIF format, parametric and non-parametric tests, clustering reports, Markov models, etc. We export Excel spreadsheets, images and PowerPoint files directly from S- PLUS.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Insightful has been very responsive when our questions have come during critical manufacturing deadlines.
DOCUMENTATION: The books that are included are substantial and excellent references for beginning and advanced S-PLUS coding and statistical analyses.
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