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Dell-Powered Supercomputer to Boost Web for Wolfram Alpha Launch
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May 12, 2009

Dell-Powered Supercomputer to Boost Web for Wolfram Alpha Launch

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

“The Internet gerbils are running slowly today.” That’s something a colleague here at TMCnet said on my very first day last year, and I remember that it took a few minutes for one of our IT gurus to tinker with our servers and get the problem straightened out.

But here’s something even Tom Keating couldn’t cure: a sudden upsurge – say about 175 million queries per day – on a new Internet search engine.
Yet that’s just what officials at Wolfram Research, Inc. are expecting when they launch their new computationally intensive Web site, “Wolfram|Alpha,” later this month.
To handle the traffic, the company’s infrastructure team says in a blog post today, the Wolfram is using a supercomputer from a group called R Systems that uses Dell (News - Alert) hardware.
“There is no way to know exactly how much traffic to expect, especially during the initial period immediately following our launch, but we’re working hard to put reasonable capacity in place,” says the software company, whose U.S. headquarters are in Champaign, Illinois. “Will we have enough computing power to provide computable knowledge for everyone who visits? We hope so.”
So do we.
If the Internet does crash, it won’t be for Wolfram’s lack of trying. The company says it will service Wolfram|Alpha from five distributed colocation facilities.
Here’s what the company envisions in the facilities on launch day: Two supercomputers, about 10,000 processor cores, hundreds of terabytes of disks, “a heck of a lot of bandwidth, and what seems like enough air conditioning for the Sahara to host a ski resort.”
We like these guys already, and they’ve quickly emerged as tech media darlings.
Last week, Wolfram|Alpha debuted in a demo as a new, free search system that IT insiders immediately hailed as the first major Web innovation since the research project which produced Google (News - Alert) was born 13 years ago. The system is said to do a better job than Google of understanding questions and giving more specific, relevant answers than the Internet ever has.
“Wolfram Alpha is really concentrating on giving us just the facts about things,” the company’s founder and project’s leader, British-born Stephen Wolfram (pictured right), says in a YouTube (News - Alert) video where he demos the search engine.
In a basic sense, the system appears to work very similarly to Google: Users type queries into a box, hit return and view results that they can scroll through.
Yet there are also appear to be key differences. According to Wolfram (the man), there’s a partially human and partially automated process that Wolfram|Alpha uses to take information and make it “computable.”
To help make those computations, the supercomputer that Wolfram Research described today will sustain performance of 39.6 trillion mathematical operations per second. Neither Rainman nor Good Will Hunting could do that.
Dell, Wolfram Research says, “helped us pull together in just a few weeks a data center full of quad-board, dual-processor, quad-core Harpertown servers. That’s the computing power of another top supercomputer in its own right!”
No one knows the exact date of the system’s launch, outside of Wolfram Research itself. IT insiders place the date at May 18, next Monday.
We’ll have to see if the Dell-powered supercomputer does its job. If they don’t, you can be sure I’ll turn to the new girl who sits near me and say: “The Internet gerbils are running slowly today.”

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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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