Alta Vista Jets by Competitors

Gee whiz search and retrieval technology puts Digital in the driver's seat

P> Joke's over, Yahoo!; get lost, InfoSeek; creep under a rock, Web- Crawler. Like a rich kid who peals into the neighborhood in a new Ferrari, Digital Equipment Corp. is showing off the fastest search engine on the Internet, the Alta Vista.


Under the hood, the Maynard, Mass.-based company loaded this Ferrari of search engines with 64-bit processing and RAM access. This leaves the 32-bit rivals spinning their hard disks while the Alta Vista lists what's hot and cool and time-wasting on the World Wide Web.

"We designed the Alta Vista search engine to highlight the 64-bit features of the Digital Alpha architecture," said Hill Carter, a senior consultant at Digital's federal government region.

An informal comparison illustrates how Alta Vista beats the competition. WT used a 14.4 modem on PSINet's USA Pipeline service to search for "Bill Gates." Alta Vista took just three to four seconds to return 80,000 matches.

On Yahoo!, the "Bill Gates" search yielded 22 hits in seven to nine seconds; InfoSeek drew 100 hits in six to eight seconds; Web- Crawler returned 1,313 Web pages in seven to nine seconds. As for the Excite! search engine -- ah, try it later: It was down for this Feb. 25 comparison.

Digital is perhaps no more scientific in promoting its case for the Alta Vista. For example, promotional material points out that actor Leslie Nielsen (of "Naked Gun" fame) considers the Alta Vista his first choice in search engines.

Although it can't catch murderers, the Alta Vista's speed can get you where you want to go faster than anyone else on the block-- a good thing when it comes to computers and cars. But what's more convenient -- the 22 hits Yahoo! flings at you, or the 80,000-hit avalanche from Alta Vista? The Alta Vista research project began in mid-1995 at Digital's research laboratories in Palo Alto, Calif. By the fall, a team of researchers combined a Web crawler with indexing software to build an index of Web offerings. After two months of internal testing, Digital added to that trove more than 16 million pages. The Alta Vista went quietly on-line in mid-December. (http://www. alta vista.digital.com)

Now, Digital reports it handles more than 4 million requests a day.

A single Alpha station -- the most powerful machine Digital makes -- handles all the Alta Vista traffic. This is AlphaStation 250 4/266, with a 4-gigabyte disk and 256 megabytes of memory. It runs a Web server and sends queries to the Web indexer and news indexer. Here, the largest machine built by Digital -- AlphaServer 8400 (5/300, 210 gigabyte RAID disk, 6-gigabyte memory, 10 processors) takes over and rips out the results.

Written in the C programming language under Digital UNIX, the program exploits the 64-bit capabilities of the Alpha chip. Translation: It's fast. The current Alta Vista Web index measures 30 gigabytes; DEC claims the internal processing time for most requests takes under a second.

But enough geek details.

When you've got the dough and know-how to drive the fastest machine on the block, you strut your stuff. For now, Digital's Alta Vista is the Ferrari of search engines. The new kid on the block is impressing the natives with his RAM access and 64-bit prowess while the other kids in the neighborhood drive around the Internet with 32-bit processing.


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