Omnigen makes personalized DNA available to many with Google Cloud Platform

Omnigen is building a business to help people know more about their personal genetic makeup. The company chose Google Cloud Platform for its computing power and storage capabilities.

Opening the doors to genetic insights

Nothing is as personal as DNA. It controls everything from eye color to distaste for certain foods to predispositions to certain diseases. Understanding DNA can help people live healthier lives by alerting them to potential dangers and helping them improve the quality of life — for example, if someone has a genetic susceptibility to diabetes, he can change his eating habits.

Yet many people are unable to take advantage of the insights DNA offers because of the cost and difficulty in getting it analyzed. Berry Kriesels, director and founder of Omnigen, set out to change that with Omnigen.

“Omnigen is more than a business for me. It’s personal as well,” says Kriesels. “My nephew became paralyzed after he woke from a tonsillectomy when he was 13 years old. The doctors didn’t know he had a protein deficiency that causes paralysis when anesthesia is used. Eventually he recovered, but it was a horrifying experience. If he could have gotten a DNA analysis ahead of time, the doctors would have known about his deficiency and he wouldn’t have been given the anesthesia. So I want to make sure that everyone who wants a DNA analysis can get one.”

Like many small companies, Kriesels and his team needed an affordable, reliable way to analyze data, a solution that would scale and grow with the company.

A platform that scales as they grow

Omnigen chose Google Cloud Platform because it offers high computing power, storage capabilities and scalability. The company can crunch more data, serve more customers and bring more features to market faster because they don’t have to dedicate time and resources to managing and monitoring the infrastructure.

Omnigen runs complex analyses on DNA using Google Compute Engine. Before using Compute Engine, it took five days to complete a genome analysis. Now it only takes three hours.

Omnigen started by looking at athletes, applying its knowledge to a field where medical implications directly impact success. It analyzes genetic data for many athletes and particularly looks for the risk of specific injuries like torn tendons and back injuries. Based on this information, they can advise an athlete on conditions that will protect their health and improve their performance. For example, if an athlete has sturdy tendons, he should practice on soft, padded ground.

Genetic analysis requires massive amounts of data, and Omnigen has to make sure that the genetic data they store is backed up and secure. Exome sequencing, for example, requires 1.5 gigabytes of data per individual. Multiply that by a thousand, and it adds up. Omnigen hosts 50 terabytes of data in Google Cloud Storage. Without GCP, they would have to back up the records manually using backup tapes. Cloud Storage continues to save the team time and space. Kriesels expects the amount of data to grow at least 80 percent by next year since they plan to sequence the DNA of 2,000 people.

Meanwhile, Google Cloud Dataflow automates the resource management and performance optimization of the raw data processing. Kriesels says Cloud Dataflow will help his team provide more personalized recommendations and integrate with other technologies in the future to collect real-time data. For example, if someone has a high heart rate, the Omnigen team could monitor that heart rate via a smartwatch to determine if she already has a predisposition to develop a heart attack or has another issue of concern. Omnigen could notify the patient that she should check with her physician.

Staying small and nimble

GCP gives Omnigen the stability and scalability that they need to grow. During non-peak periods, Omnigen can spin down machines, and then spin up more to support peak periods.

“Google Cloud Platform provides us with the technology that we would never be able to afford otherwise — and it will grow along with us,” Kriesels says. “We don’t need to worry about system administration and configuring machines and storage, so we can concentrate on improving our business rather than wrangling infrastructure.”

Kriesels and his team have seen huge time and cost savings since using GCP. They save about 10,000 euros ($10,960) a year on storage and computing clusters. A year from now, they expect to be saving 40,000 euros ($43,850) annually given their growth rate.

Like many startups, their staff is small. With GCP, the nine-person company can stay small because they don’t have to pay for a system administrator and other support staff.

“Google Cloud Platform is an all-included package,” Kriesels adds. “Before, we’d have to configure the machine ourselves and keep an eye on it to see if it keeps running. Now, on the fly, we can create a new machine and it keeps running.”