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10/8/2012
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Google Retools Search Appliance

Never mind the cloud. Companies need search hardware, and Google aims to deliver.

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Google on Tuesday plans to refresh its enterprise search hardware, the Google Search Appliance, with a major product update.

The GSA 7.0 introduces a handful of new features and represents Google's effort to address enterprises' internal search needs. The first GSA, launched in 2002, appealed mainly to smaller organizations. But as Google has grown, it has attracted larger and larger customers, for both its online services and for its business-oriented hardware.

"We're doubling down on the enterprise search space," said Matthew Eichner, general manager of Google Enterprise Search, in a phone interview. "We're really now focused on the world's largest organizations with the toughest scale and complexity problems."

IDC analyst David Schubmehl said in a phone interview that while Google has traditionally gone after the lower end of the enterprise search market, it's now aiming at the midtier and enterprise level. What makes that possible, he said, is the growth of Google's services group and partner organizations.

[ What's Google doing with your personal data? Read Google Privacy Audit Leaves Lingering Questions. ]

"It's not as simple as dropping a box on someone's desk and saying the problem is solved," said Schubmehl. "You need services or training to help gain the value that's promised. And I think Google is doing a lot in that area."

Schubmehl said there's still a lot of room for improvement in enterprise search systems, and that Google and its competitors are responding to customer demand to make internal corporate search systems better.

Schubmehl sees today's enterprise search vendors finally being able to fulfill the promise of knowledge management, which fell short of expectations during the past decade because knowledge management systems required too much work setting up taxonomies and semantics. What's different today, he said, is "this new wave of unified information access takes that [configuration burden] away and automates it."

Eichner contended that Google has an advantage over competing enterprise search vendors because the GSA is informed by what the company's engineers have learned from handling search queries on the Web. "Google ends up having a unique perspective that we can add," he said.

GSA

As an example, Eichner pointed to language support. For most search companies, he said, that means support for the unicode characters used to represent different languages. However, he said, that doesn't tell you much about the quality of search in another language.

Google's vast exposure to foreign languages online has provided it with data to evaluate diacritical marks in other languages and to do things like de-compound words in German. In Arabic, there are thousands of diacritical expansions, said Eichner, and Google is harvesting that knowledge from the Web to make its searches more relevant.

"We operate at a level of scale that's fundamentally different than any other enterprise search company," he said.

Google has long made much of its difference from other companies, yet the value of the GSA comes in part from sameness, which is to say compatibility: Version 7.0 can deliver information to desktop devices, phones, and tablets, offers the ability to easily add content sources from local or remote repositories, and integrates with SharePoint 2010. Google and Microsoft, together at last.

GSA 7.0 brings with it algorithmic and relevance enhancements. It also adds thumbnail and full-screen previews of search results pages, entity recognition, automatic Google Translate translations in over 60 languages, improved language capabilities, a feature called Expert Search that adds links to company experts into search results lists, and the moderated ability to add social search suggestions. There's also a new interface that's consistent with Google's current design on the Web.

Pricing for the GSA starts at $15,000 annually for an index of up to 500,000 documents. A GSA can handle up to 30 million documents and can be combined with additional units to provide search capabilities for billions of documents.

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