Google's search plan could bring enterprise search to the masses
Google’s mission is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. So far it has barely scratched the surface, because most of the world’s information is stored on corporate servers, behind firewalls. This makes Google’s enterprise search strategy important, even if it does not make economic sense at the moment.
Google entered the enterprise search market in 2002 with the rack-mounted Google Search Appliance (GSA), a dedicated combination of hardware and software designed simply to “plug in and go”. It has now added the Google Mini, which searches up to 50,000 documents for £1,295, or up to 300,000 for £4,000.
This is well within the reach of small companies who would never normally consider an enterprise search product, and it is easy to buy direct from Google’s website.
So far, Google’s search appliance businesses only contribute to about 1% of its turnover, and the whole enterprise search market is too small to be worth the effort, even if Google owned all of it. But it does make sense if Google can expand that market to hundreds of thousands and ultimately, perhaps, millions of small businesses.
That process has now started and in a break with tradition, Google is doing it through partners. The argument runs as follows: if you want to organise the world’s NetSuite data, sign up NetSuite as a partner and get it to develop a module that will work with your search appliance.
Google already has NetSuite, Oracle, Cognos, SAS, Salesforce.com, Bearing Point and others involved. These all have modules to display search data via the Google Onebox for Enterprise feature, which is similar to the way that weather and travel information is added to Google web searches.
Of course, Google is not going to get involved with every company that has developed a business application. However, it has published an applications programming interface and a set of guidelines for writing Onebox modules, and put a free software development kit on its website.
Companies that have data locked in programs developed in-house can develop a module for Google’s search system. Third parties can develop modules for applications even if the publisher does not: there are already modules for Microsoft Exchange, for example.
And although Google searches are generally associated with crawling a relatively static web, the new GSA approach does not have such limitations. Indeed, if you can convert your data into an XML feed then you can write a custom connector (eg. a Python script) to feed it into the Google Search Appliance. Even real time data can be handled this way.
Jack Schofield is computer editor at The Guardian
This was first published in May 2006