Google upgrades search appliance

Google this week released a new version of its enterprise search product, an appliance built with the same code base and content-crawling technology as the software that runs the company’s public Webwide search site,

The Google Search Appliance is a simple engine designed to help companies manage their internal and external content without a lot of headaches. It installs quickly and can handle 1.5 million documents, which is five times as many documents as its predecessor’s capacity, according to Dave Girouard, general manager of the enterprise group at Google. It’s also faster: Google increased the appliance’s query performance fivefold, from 60 queries per minute to 300 queries per minute, Girouard says.

The bigger appliance is the first major upgrade of Google Search Appliance, which made its debut in 2002. Back then, the company also offered enterprise customers a hosted search service, giving companies a choice to deploy their own Google appliance or let Google’s service run the search engine for their sites.

But the company no longer offers its hosted search service, Girouard says. The appliance gives users tighter control over which content is crawled and indexed than the service did, as well as better reporting features for tracking usage, he says.

To save bandwidth, Google Search Appliance now operates in a continuous crawl mode and only indexes content that has been altered since the last index. Earlier versions re-indexed all content, in batches, Girouard says.

Google worked to improve security in the new appliance. The earlier version offered support for Microsoft’s NTLM authentication technology. The new appliance adds single sign-on support. Before the appliance serves search results to a user, it validates the user’s authority to view content sources, Girouard says.

Support for an unlimited number of “collections” per appliance is also new. A collection is a set of content designed for a specific user group, such as a sales team or a call center department. Each collection has its own content and thesaurus, for example. In the past, users could only designate one collection per appliance, even if the collection didn’t use all of the appliance’s capacity, Girouard says.

The field of vendors offering enterprise search technology is large. Google’s competition includes specialized search vendors such as Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, iPhrase and Verity. Additionally, business software makers such as Oracle and SAP also offer search applications.

Google’s brand recognition makes its appliance a popular entry on enterprise shortlists, according to Whit Andrews, a research director at Gartner. “Its low price, term license and simple deployment models are best used in tactical external or intranet installations where content need not be indexed directly from dynamic repositories,” Andrews wrote in an evaluation of the enterprise search market Gartner published last month.

Where the Google appliance falls short of some of its more sophisticated competition is in its relevancy analysis of queries and document structure semantics, according to Andrews.

The upgraded Google Search Appliance is a 2U, Intel architecture server running Linux. (The earlier version was 1U.) Pricing starts at $32,000.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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