Making the world’s knowledge computable, the Wolfram|Alpha Architecture

Wolfram|Alpha is the first step in an ambitious, long-term project to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone. You enter your question or calculation, and Wolfram|Alpha uses its built-in algorithms and growing collection of data to compute the answer.

Answer Engine vs Search Engine

Wolfram|Alpha will be one of the most computationally intensive websites on the internet. The Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine is an “answer engine” that is able to produce answers to various questions such as

  • What is the GDP of France?
  • Weather is Springfield when David Ortiz was born
  • 33 g of gold
  • LDL vs. serum potassium 150 smoker male age 40
  • life expectancy male age 40 finland
  • high school teacher median wage

Wolfram|Alpha excels at different areas like mathematics, statistics, physics, engineering, astronomy, chemistry, life sciences, geology, business and finance as demonstrated by Steven Wolfram in his Introduction screencast.

The Stats

  • Abour 10,000 CPU cores at launch
  • 10+ trillion of pieces of data
  • 50,000+ types of algorithms
  • Able to handle about 175 million queries per day
  • 5+ million lines of symbolic Mathematica code

The Computers Powering Computable Knowledge

There is no way to know exactly how much traffic to expect, especially during the initial period immediately following the launch, but the Wolfram|Alpha team is working hard to put reasonable capacity in place.

As Stephen writes in the Wolfram|Alpha blog Alpha will run in 5 distributed colocation facilities. What computing power have they 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.

One of their launch partners, R Systems, created the world’s 44th largest supercomputer (per the June 2008 TOP500 list – it is listed as 66th per the latest Top500 list). They call it the R Smarr. It will be running Wolfram|Alpha on launch day! R Smarr has a Sum Rmax of 39580 GFlops using Dell DCS CS23-SH, QC HT 2.8 GHz computers, 4608 cores, 65536 GB of RAM and Infiniband interconnect.

Dell is another of the launch partners with a data center full of quad-board, dual-processor, quad-core Harpertown servers. 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 Launch of Wolfram|Alpha

Watch a live webcast of the Wolfram|Alpha system being brought online for the first time on

  • Friday, May 15, beginning at 7pm CST

The First Killer App of The New Kind of Science

The Genius behind Wolfram|Alpha is Stephen Wolfram. He is best know for his ambitious projects: Mathematica and A New Kind of Science (NKS).
May 14, 2009 marks the 7th anniversary of the publication of his book A New Kind of Science. Stephen explains is his blog post: But for me the biggest thing that’s happened this year is the emergence of Wolfram|Alpha. Wolfram|Alpha is, I believe, going to be the first killer app of NKS.


That it should be possible to build Wolfram|Alpha as it exists today in the first decade of the 21st century was far from obvious. And yet there is much more to come.

As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. Built with Mathematica—which is itself the result of more than 20 years of development at Wolfram Research—Wolfram|Alpha’s core code base now exceeds 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code. Running on supercomputer-class compute clusters, Wolfram|Alpha makes extensive use of the latest generation of web and parallel computing technologies, including webMathematica and gridMathematica.

How Mathematica Made Wolfram|Alpha Possible?

Wolfram|Alpha is a major software engineering development to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone. It is developed and deployed entirely with Mathematica—in fact, Mathematica has uniquely made Wolfram|Alpha possible. Here’s why.

  • Computational knowledge and intelligence
  • High-performance enterprise deployment
  • One coherent architecture
  • Smart method selection
  • Dynamic report generation
  • Database connectivity
  • Built-in, computable data
  • High-level programming language
  • Efficient text processing and linguistic analysis
  • Wide-ranging, automated visualization capabilities
  • Automated importing
  • Development environment

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