Wolfram Alpha

  • 1
  • May 16, 2009
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Today marked the official launch of Wolfram Alpha, a research engine designed to offer instant information about almost anything you care to ask it.

People are calling it a Google killer but that’s like calling Wikipedia a Google killer when the two work perfectly hand in hand. Wolfram Alpha is a tool to give you all the information you want to know about a particular “thing” whether it’s a company, town, chemical element, person or date.

The reason Wolfram Alpha is so good is that it uses a cross between algorithms and people to ensure the accuracy of it’s data, kind of like Wikipedia would be if people weren’t allowed to edit it.

Wolfram Alpha has been running very slowly all day today which means they are already hugely successful – any service that can’t cope with traffic on day 1 is surely going to be something amazing, especially when you consider the servers they are running:

We’ll service Wolfram|Alpha from five distributed colocation facilities, which we somewhat unimaginatively call locations 0, 2, 3, 4, 5 (1 as a backup). What computing power have we gathered in these facilities for launch day? Two supercomputers, just 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.

What does it all add up to? The ability to handle 175 million queries (yielding maybe a billion) per day—over 5 billion queries (encompassing around 30 billion calculations) per month.

The fact that this service was built to cope with 175 million queries per day and is already struggling on day one is quite staggering.

Hand in hand with Google

Wolfram Alpha is quite rightly going to be a big force in the search results (notice how Google is already indexing search pages?) because people will love to link at the answer pages with keyword rich anchor text, just like they do with Wikipedia. The potential traffic Wolfram Alpha can get from Google is immense and Google will be more than happy to send the right type of queries straight to Wolfram.