Google has improved its enterprise Search Appliance so that it can now index documents that aren't accessible via the Web protocol HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), thus significantly expanding the range of data the product can search for and retrieve. Google plans to announce the improvement Thursday.
Google will also begin shipping Thursday a simpler and less expensive version of the Search Appliance, called Google Mini, that is designed for use by small and medium-size businesseses, whose enterprise search needs Google believes are grossly underserved.
The new version of the Search Appliance is able to access for the first time documents that aren't available via an HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) Web interface, through two improvements: JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) support, for access to relational databases; and a "feeder" API for establishing links between the Search Appliance and the data repositories of wares such as enterprise business applications, content management software and legacy systems.
"We have added a connection to (relational) databases because naturally in a big company a lot of the information that's important resides in (relational) databases," said Dave Girouard, Google's enterprise general manager. "With the feeder API, instead of relying on the crawler, other content systems within a company can feed information automatically into the Search Appliance."
This way, the Search Appliance expands beyond its previous incarnation as a tool companies bought to let employees search intranets or to let visitors search their public Web sites.
The Search Appliance, which is a hardware box with Google search software in it, has also been enhanced with a new security API to integrate it with corporate security systems that control user access to documents and information, so that the Search Appliance only serves up documents to users that they are allowed to access.
Finally, the Search Appliance, which was introduced in 2002 and has been bought by over 800 clients, now offers its administration and user interfaces in five languages other than English: Spanish, Italian, French, German and Japanese.
These enhancements represent "good, consistent, steady movement for Google in the enterprise space" but they are not enough to put the Search Appliance at the same level of more robust enterprise search products from vendors such as Verity, Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer ASA, said Laura Ramos, a Forrester Research analyst.
For example, while the security API is a move in the right direction, Google should build native support into the Search Appliance for document access methods from specific systems, such as Lotus Notes/Domino, she said. Likewise, the JDBC support is a good feature, but it's not a native format of specific database systems, such as ones from Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and Sybase, Ramos said.
Thus, the Google Search Appliance serves the low end of the enterprise search segment and as such is best suited for small and medium-sized businesses and for individual departments within large companies, Ramos said.
Meanwhile, the Google Mini, which will be sold online from the Google Web site for US$4,995, initially will be able to index only documents available via HTTP, and has a ceiling of 50,000 documents.
The Search Appliance, by contrast, starts at US$32,000 with a capacity of 150,000 documents, while one with the maximum capacity of 1.5 million documents costs US$175,000, according to pricing information Google provided in June 2004. The Search Appliance is also sold in pre-configured stacks of multiple devices.
Future versions of the Google Mini will inherit features from the Search Appliance, so the Google Mini could index non-Web documents, Girouard said.
Aiming a search product at small companies is a very good move by Google, Ramos said. "This very low end of the search market has been very underserved for a long time, and probably the best solutions you could get to date were from hosted providers that charged on a per page or monthly fee basis," she said.
Beyond that, enterprise search products typically start above US$30,000 and can cost over US$1 million for large deployments, a range that is out of the reach of small organizations, she said.
Because this segment of the market has been so underserved, "there is some education and support Google will need to offer" prospective clients, Ramos said.