Google boosts search capabilities

Google Inc. is working hard to broaden the searching and indexing capabilities of its enterprise Search Appliance from Web...

Google is working hard to broaden the searching and indexing capabilities of its enterprise Search Appliance from web documents based on the HTTP and HTTPS protocols to multiple and disparate non-web data repositories.

"We want to index and allow users to search on the broadest set of enterprise documents, while retaining the simplicity of use that people have come to expect from Google," said Dave Girouard, Google's enterprise general manager.

That means turning the Search Appliance from a tool that today is primarily used to index and search intranets and external company websites to a tool with a much broader reach into enterprise data sources, he said.

While Girouard declined to specify the data sources the Search Appliance might support, he said the product at some point could be extended to tap enterprise databases, desktop PCs, content management systems and CRM applications.

"The enterprise has many data silos and we want to make that data more accessible to end users," he said. "It's a tall order but it's an important task that hasn't been tackled successfully by anybody. Existing offerings are very complex to users."

To that end, Google is increasing its investment in research and development for the Search Appliance, beefing up the engineering teams working on the product, Girouard said. Also getting a boost are the sales and marketing teams for the Search Appliance, he said.

"We see a great opportunity to improve the search experience for enterprise users," he said. Although Search Appliance revenue represents a small percentage of Google's overall sales, enterprise search is "an area Google is very serious about", he said.

Extending the Search Appliance in this manner "makes more than perfect sense" because most enterprise data resides in a variety of formats that are not web-accessible, said Whit Andrews, a Gartner analyst.

"How much [corporate data] gets turned into an HTML file? Relatively little," Andrews said. "If Google wants to continue to grow that [Search Appliance] business opportunity, then it absolutely must be in the business of dealing with a large variety of enterprise document formats and data repositories."

As such, Google is positioning itself to compete with suppliers such as Verity, Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer, Andrews said.

One thing that sets Google apart is the ease of use and interface simplicity of its online services, and this is something that the company should always strive to replicate in the enterprise search space as it pushes forward, he said.

"Ease of use is something Google has really excelled at," he said. "That's its hallmark."

The Search Appliance can crawl and index documents in more than 250 file formats, as long as the documents are accessible via HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) or HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer.)

A recent improvement to the Search Appliance allows it to link with Google's deskbar, which can be downloaded for free, Girouard said. The deskbar utility sits on a user's desktop and permits a search query against the engine without having a browser window open.

Users now have the option of running queries from their deskbar either against the engine or their company's Search Appliance, Girouard said.

"It's a nice utility and a good step forward," he said. The link between the two products has been available for about two weeks, but the company is now publicly announcing it, he said.

Google first launched the Search Appliance in 2002 and released a significant upgrade this June.

The product is sold as a standalone device; with a capacity of 150,000 documents it starts at $32,000 (£18,000), while one with the maximum capacity of 1.5 million documents costs $175,000, Google said in June. Included in the price are two years of customer support. The Search Appliance is also sold in preconfigured stacks of multiple units.

Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service

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