Google seeks clients of enterprise search rivals

Google is going after clients of other enterprise search vendors with a new trade-in program aimed at fostering adoption of its Search Appliance, the Mountain View, California, company announced Tuesday.

Organizations that rip out their existing enterprise search systems and replace them with a Search Appliance by the end of the year will receive a free Google Mini, which is a simpler and less expensive version of the Search Appliance, according to Google.

The Google Search Appliance, first introduced in 2002, is designed to index information stored in a variety of server-based data repositories, such as intranets, public Web sites, relational databases, enterprise business applications, content management software and legacy systems.

The Google Mini is designed for small and medium-size organizations that want to make searchable the information in their intranets or public Web sites.

Both products are hardware boxes loaded with Google search software.

Google hopes the replacement program will appeal in particular to customers of its enterprise search rival Verity, which last week announced it will be sold to Autonomy in a cash deal totaling around US$500 million.

"We definitely see a situation where a significant number of customers are probably questioning whether the Verity products will be developed and supported going forward," said Dave Girouard, general manager of the Google Enterprise unit, in an interview.

Beyond Verity customers, the trade-in program is also intended to attract organizations using legacy enterprise search systems whose vendors haven't updated them regularly, Girouard said. He trusts that many customers will conclude that the Search Appliance is a better product with a brighter future.

"We're increasing our investment in this market. It's been a market that has been flat for years and we're injecting interest and excitement into it, and doing innovations that are not happening elsewhere. We want to make sure people check out what we're doing in this market," he said.

To qualify for the free Google Mini offer, an organization must either not be a Search Appliance user, or if it's a Search Appliance user, it must replace a competing enterprise search system with the new one it buys, because the point of the program is to get customers to do a product swap, Girouard said. However, Google will not require proof that the customer uninstalled a competing product, he said. "It's an honor system in that respect," he said.

The prospect of receiving a free Google Mini will not be a big motivator for every company, but a price break on the Search Appliance would have much broader appeal, said analyst Guy Creese, from Ballardvale Research. "I think companies would rather get a discount than sort of sit there and try to figure out how to use this thing Google wants them to take," Creese said.

For example, a company with a small division or a department where the Mini would fit in well might consider the Google offer a good deal. "But a lot of companies would be scratching their heads saying 'Well, I'm getting this free piece of hardware but where can I use it?' With the price break, you can take that money and reinvest it in something else ... which I think nowadays everybody wants because you never quite know what the next crisis is going to be."

In general, Google does well to target Verity customers, because it stands to find organizations there that in light of the acquisition by Autonomy may be re-evaluating their choices of enterprise search systems, Creese said. However, Google may find that the Search Appliance can't always replicate what a Verity system does, because Verity products are more sophisticated and allow for far more customization than the Google ware, Creese said.

Google may have more luck with companies that are using legacy search products that aren't being regularly updated by their vendors, Creese said. Those organizations are probably not customizing their search products very much, and they may find appealing the Search Appliance's simplicity to set up and operate, Creese said.

The Google Search Appliance starts at US$30,000 to search up to 500,000 documents, while the Google Mini costs US$2,995 and searches up to 100,000 documents.

More information about the trade-in program can be found at http://www.google.com/switch.

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