The Increasing Demands on ChemSpider and Servers are not cheap

01 May

We’re at 5 weeks since we let people onto ChemSpider to crawl our web. The service is now enabling over 650 visitors per day on average in the past week to search the database and utilize the services. At present the database has grown to 10.6 million structures. However, as stated at the time of release we would limit the database to around 10 million structures solely for the purpose of testing.At present we have 800,000 molecules from 4 new contributors waiting to be added to the database after prediction of all associated properties and then de-duplicated with the existing content. We are in the process of converting over 10 million NEW structures from SMILES format. These will also be passed through all prediction algorithms, added to the database and then de-duplicated. There are a number of other databases to be delivered to ChemSpider for preparation in the next few days. With full disclosure you should be aware that ChemSpider is served up from two Dell servers. They host the transactions, the database, the web server, the webpage, our email system. They are also, in parallel, converting SMILES to connection tables (millions of them) and are predicting a series of properties on every structure (check’ll see them all). Some of these properties take many seconds since they are complex calculations.Bottom line…these servers are in dire need of air conditioning systems. They are running flat out. Our ability to provide fast searches, especially structure and substructure searches, while also being able to perform transaction-based predictions is already starting to fail. People are reporting performance issues so we have moved our predictions to the evening. It is clear we need a new server already (likely two) and much earlier than expected. I guess that’s what you call one of the struggles of success. I spent today reading about how one of the founders of YouTube kept extending his credit card bill to cover their technical costs (Time, January 2007). Well, we are not YouTube, this is not Silicon Valley and we’re not putting our families at risk. As already discussed on this blog we may need to seek sponsorship. As it is we made the painful decision today that we have to start some form of advertising. We will be judged on this. And we acknowledge it. But our intention is to stay faithful to the community to have the service remain free but offer the best services and throughput that we can. Only more computing power will allow this at this stage. We will stumble along for the next month with what we have but if the dataset grows to the expected 15-20 million structures we will need to expand our plastic boxes. Hopefully our users will understand.


About tony

Antony (Tony) J. Williams received his BSc in 1985 from the University of Liverpool (UK) and PhD in 1988 from the University of London (UK). His PhD research interests were in studying the effects of high pressure on molecular motions within lubricant related systems using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. He moved to Ottawa, Canada to work for the National Research Council performing fundamental research on the electron paramagnetic resonance of radicals trapped in single crystals. Following his postdoctoral position he became the NMR Facility Manager for Ottawa University. Tony joined the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York as their NMR Technology Leader. He led the laboratory to develop quality control across multiple spectroscopy labs and helped establish walk-up laboratories providing NMR, LC-MS and other forms of spectroscopy to hundreds of chemists across multiple sites. This included the delivery of spectroscopic data to the desktop, automated processing and his initial interests in computer-assisted structure elucidation (CASE) systems. He also worked with a team to develop the worlds’ first web-based LIMS system, WIMS, capable of allowing chemical structure searching and spectral display. With his developing cheminformatic skills and passion for data management he left corporate America to join a small start-up company working out of Toronto, Canada. He joined ACD/Labs as their NMR Product Manager and various roles, including Chief Science Officer, during his 10 years with the company. His responsibilities included managing over 50 products at one time prior to developing a product management team, managing sales, marketing, technical support and technical services. ACD/Labs was one of Canada’s Fast 50 Tech Companies, and Forbes Fast 500 companies in 2001. His primary passions during his tenure with ACD/Labs was the continued adoption of web-based technologies and developing automated structure verification and elucidation platforms. While at ACD/Labs he suggested the possibility of developing a public resource for chemists attempting to integrate internet available chemical data. He finally pursued this vision with some close friends as a hobby project in the evenings and the result was the ChemSpider database ( Even while running out of a basement on hand built servers the website developed a large community following that eventually culminated in the acquisition of the website by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Tony joined the organization, together with some of the other ChemSpider team, and became their Vice President of Strategic Development. At RSC he continued to develop cheminformatics tools, specifically ChemSpider, and was the technical lead for the chemistry aspects of the Open PHACTS project (, a project focused on the delivery of open data, open source and open systems to support the pharmaceutical sciences. He was also the technical lead for the UK National Chemical Database Service ( and the RSC lead for the PharmaSea project ( attempting to identify novel natural products from the ocean. He left RSC in 2015 to become a Computational Chemist in the National Center of Computational Toxicology at the Environmental Protection Agency where he is bringing his skills to bear working with a team on the delivery of a new software architecture for the management and delivery of data, algorithms and visualization tools. The “Chemistry Dashboard” was released on April 1st, no fooling, at, and provides access to over 700,000 chemicals, experimental and predicted properties and a developing link network to support the environmental sciences. Tony remains passionate about computer-assisted structure elucidation and verification approaches and continues to publish in this area. He is also passionate about teaching scientists to benefit from the developing array of social networking tools for scientists and is known as the ChemConnector on the networks. Over the years he has had adjunct roles at a number of institutions and presently enjoys working with scientists at both UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University. He is widely published with over 200 papers and book chapters and was the recipient of the Jim Gray Award for eScience in 2012. In 2016 he was awarded the North Carolina ACS Distinguished Speaker Award.
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Posted by on May 1, 2007 in How ChemSpider Runs


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