IBM would like to see its WebFountain supercomputing project become the next big thing in Web search.
The Internet can be a treasure trove of business intelligence–but only if you can make sense of the data.
Along with competitors such as ClearForest, Fast Search and Transfer, and Mindfabric, Big Blue hopes to foster demand for new data-mining services that ferret out meaning and context, not just lists of more-or-less relevant links.
It’s a tall order, one that’s pushing the limits of supercomputing design and stretching expectations as to what raw processing power can accomplish when set to work on the world’s largest document library. Traditional search engines such as Google are already hard-pressed to match search terms to specific Web pages. Now WebFountain and other projects will take on a task that’s exponentially more complex.
“Search is trying to find the best page on a topic. WebFountain wants to find the trend,” said Dan Gruhl, chief architect of the project at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in South San Jose, Calif. Harnessing the Internet’s data to find meaning is a visionary ideal of Web search that has yet to be attained. As more companies manage their businesses on the Web, however, analysts predict they will be looking to extract value from its bits and bytes, and many software companies are now examining ways to bring that value to them.
IBM is hoping to cash in on the trend with the four-year-old WebFountain project, which is just now coming of age. It’s an ambitious research platform that relies on the Web’s structured and unstructured data, as well as on storage and computational capacity, and IBM’s computing expertise.
Whether WebFountain can deliver today, the problem it hopes to crack holds particular attractions for IBM. Big Blue has been pushing a new computing business model in which customers would rent processing power from a central provider rather than purchase their own hardware and software. WebFountain dovetails nicely with this utility computing model. IBM hopes to use the project to create a platform that would be used as a back end by other software developers interested in tapping data-mining capabilities.
In one of the first public applications of the technology, IBM on Tuesday teamed with software provider Semagix to offer an anti-money-laundering system for financial institutions, with Citibank as its first customer.