Find that file fast

* New and old search options for your business

If you hear the phrase, "where's that #*&$#@% file" in your company or have uttered the words yourself, take heart. Search has hit the company network, and even workgroups have affordable search options today. One name will be familiar, but you may never have heard some of the other good options.

Now that Google's in the dictionary as a noun and a verb many people believe search equals Google. That's not true, but hand it to the GoogleHeads to make search exciting. They own the Web and desktop search markets, and now your own network can have an official Google search appliance.

Google started with an enterprise search appliance, which it still sells, but a starting price of $30,000 puts it out of reach of most small businesses. The recently retooled Google Mini search appliance starts at $1995, meaning smaller companies can now afford to Google themselves privately.

Rather than limiting access by user count, as do Microsoft servers, Google search appliances have a cap on the number of files they index. The basic unit handles 50,000 files, and indexing more files costs more money for a software license upgrade, up to $8,995 for 300,000 documents.

Fifty thousand searchable documents sounds like plenty, but a file inventory may surprise you. My \WP directory tree, where I store all my files for articles and books, has 6,997 files as of today. Many are revisions or scratch files I don't need to index, but the total of nearly 7,000 files surprised me, and those aren't all the files I want to index. Before you say I'm just a wordy pack rat, inventory your own file structure.

Such an inventory project will pay multiple dividends, even if you don't buy a search program or appliance. Reducing redundant files saves disk space, especially when talking about non-text documents like graphics, music and presentations. Most companies doing a file inventory discover important files scattered all over the company, including files on individual hard drives that never get backed up (oops). Gathering and organizing your files will make your backups more complete. As data regulations apply to smaller and smaller companies, you may need to organize your files just for compliance. You'll also find files that shouldn't be on your company network, so take this chance to clean house a bit.

Besides Google there are tools from DtSearch, which offers a variety of software solutions. I tested the DtSearch Desktop product a couple of years ago and it provided much more detail and control than Google Desktop Search (of course, Google remains free while the DtSearch Desktop with Spider costs $199). But the user interface and administration screens helped rather than hindered, and the network products use similar interfaces.

Pricing for five concurrent users of the DtSearch network version starts at $800. The cost per user drops with volume: 25-99 users are $140 each, while 100-199 users are $120 each. The company uses the opposite model of Google: index as many terabytes of disk space and thousands of files as you want, but only a certain number of users can run searches against that index. Depending on your business model, you may need only a handful of users accessing all your files, or you may allow every user to search and find all the files. At least you have a choice between the two options.

Another software product, Exalead, offers a range of search products from personal desktop to data center. It has free search tools, personal search programs starting at $59.95, and its Workgroup product starts at $2995 per server. The server products support user's Exalead desktop search applications, so administrators can limit which users see which files and the like.

Both software products offer free downloads for testing. Try one or both and see if they help.

Experts foretell continued growth in this market, both in hardware and software areas. A Google appliance competitor named Thunderstone received good comments from some document management experts, although I don't know them. If you are a Thunderstone customer (or any of these other products) let me know what you like and don't like about your search tool of choice.

I can guarantee one thing: you will keep making more files, and losing track of them, every day. Whether you buy a search tool tomorrow or never, getting a grip on your files will save you time and money. While we always create more files, we don't always generate more money, and we never get more time, so use all of these wisely.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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