GenomeWeb and Matthew Herper both covered today's announcement by Perkin Elmer that they are launching a very sophisticated second generation sequencing service. Perkin Elmer becomes a rare large, publically-traded corporation in the market, though Beckman Coulter and Illumina are significant players as well (and in their specialized manner, Complete Genomics too).
Around a year ago I felt I had spoken to every U.S. based commercial provider of second generation sequencing, as well as pretty much every Boston or Cambridge core lab offering services and a few others (such as my alma mater). I've long since given up trying to maintain that status. Barriers to entry in the field seem to be minuscule, leading to new entrants on a regular basis. Many can be found through the dedicated thread at SeqAnswers or the Second Generation Sequencer Map, but just Googling for "sequencing service provider" tends to get a few new hits. Spread your scope to Europe or the rest of the world and the number of providers climbs further.
Given such a crowded field, what I would recommend to providers is they start thinking about differentiating themselves. How? Well, look for what the other providers don't offer.
For example, nobody is yet offering a low-minimum cost rapid turnaround service. Now, partly this is because platforms to support such have only recently become available. However, the one platform that is somewhat amenable to this (454 Jr) has only one service provider I've heard of, and they are offering 4 week turnaround times -- not what I call fast. For fast, I'm thinking more on the order of a week or less. On cost, there really need to be some offerings in the sub $5K range. Yes, you can buy individual lanes from some labs (particularly core facilities) for just over $1K each, but you'll need to wait until someone else fills a plate. There is a real need for some offerings using Ion Torrent, PacBio and/or MiSeq in this sort of role.
Another potential area of differentiation is sample prep. Most service providers I've talked to still want 5-10 micrograms of input DNA for their sequencing. Want to stand out? Start specializing in 50-100 nanogram input amounts. Or formalin fixed paraffin embedded samples, which most clinical folks need to deal with. There aren't many providers using the fancier PCR-based targeting schemes (Fluidigm and Raindance) nor many I know of offer automated size selection.
It is also interesting to see that new providers tend to be either purely Illumina or offering Illumina plus some other platforms. Indeed, some of the providers who previously were strong SOLiD or 454 shops seem to all be getting into the Illumina side. Another sign that Illumina is leading the pack; let's hope that continues to be good for the industry.
If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this matter, I'll be giving a talk on this topic during the last day of Bio-IT World (indeed, in the penultimate slot of the Next Generation Sequencing Informatics track).