Wolfram Alpha encounters 'snag,' launch could be delayed

Stephen Wolfram says a large-scale traffic simulation test failed, which puts the planned Friday debut of the new online tool in question.

This post was updated at 4:08 p.m. PDT with information from a Wolfram Alpha blog post and again at 5 p.m. PDT with info from a Wolfram spokesman.

Wolfram Alpha, the new "computational knowledge engine" set to debut publicly Friday, has hit a technical snag that could delay its launch, a spokesman for Wolfram Research confirmed.

The online tool--which some say could give Google a run for its money--supplies answers to factual, data-intensive questions but also does math in the process. It was set to go live to the public at 5 p.m. PDT.

However, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times (and confirmed by Wolfram public relations director John Ekizian), Stephen Wolfram said a large-scale traffic simulation test had failed. "We ran into a small snag, which hopefully won't turn into a big snag," Wolfram said.

Here's more on how Wolfram explained it to the Times:

We have several supercomputer-class compute clusters. One of our tests was to use one cluster to simulate traffic and run it against the other cluster. And when we did that last night, we found that the through-put we got degraded horribly when we increased the amount of traffic that we were pushing from one cluster to the other.

Ekizian said, for now, he could only confirm the accuracy of Times' story. But stay tuned for expected updates related to the planned 5 p.m. launch.

Update at 4:08 p.m. PDT: A Friday afternoon post on the Wolfram Alpha blog about the countdown to launch doesn't offer any specifics on time frame. Rather, it says the team has "been switching on more and more compute capacity, with the expectation of having full capacity available on Monday."

As for the snag, it only says the team is in "full-court-press resolving network infrastructure, database, and all sorts of other challenges, made particularly interesting by the sheer scale and complexity of launching two supercomputer-class clusters along with three other locations."

The post concluded with a reference to a tornado watch in Illinois where Wolfram Research is based: "It will be an interesting evening!"

Update at 5 p.m. PDT: Ekizian confirmed that Wolfram expects Wolfram Alpha to go live between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. PDT Friday, "for some time." He warned not to be surprised if the service is up and down over the weekend, but it should in "full throttle" by Monday morning.

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