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Google Search Appliance Gets New Technology

Google updates its top-tier enterprise search hardware with several new capabilities designed to appeal to corporate users, including search results clustering and administrative source biasing.

The Google Search Appliance is getting an upgrade.

Google today updated its top-tier enterprise search hardware with several new capabilities designed to appeal to corporate users. The new features are available to existing and new customers.

The two major additions are search results clustering and administrative source biasing.

Search results clustering sorts search results into clusters or categories for easier review. The technology is not new and is currently used by a variety of commercial Internet search engines, including and Matt Glotzbach, product manager for Google Enterprise, nonetheless believes Google's implementation of search clustering brings some new thinking to the table. "We do feel that we continue to provide some technical innovation," he says, noting that one of the challenges of this sort of technology is to avoid burdening administrators with the need to manually define categories or clusters. "We think it will be very well received by users."

It probably will be for companies, where information often falls into a fairly well-defined set of categories. Glotzbach, however, said it was unclear whether clustering technology might be headed for "Users have been conditioned on the Internet to enter only a word or two," he explained, suggesting that unnecessary complexity might spoil the carefully calibrated Google user experience. Still, clustering seems likely to be integrated into the company's Internet search engine eventually, if only to prevent the competition from crowing. Perhaps it will end up being hidden in the Advanced Search options.

Source biasing is a way for Google Search Appliance administrators to assign weights or biases to search results. An admin might, for example, want the CEO's internal blog to appear at the top of certain search results lists, rather than a better trafficked internal blog written by some other employee. Source biasing lets administrators do just that. As with the its new clustering capabilities, Glotzbach says an effort has been made to make source biasing as automated as possible.

The appliance upgrade also includes improved integration with the Sitemaps protocol, recently endorsed in an unusual show of unanimity by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Customers using the Google Search Appliance can now export Sitemap XML files directly so they can be used by a public search engine.

Other new features include support for NTLM version 2.0 authentication and authorization, and open source connectors for Microsoft SharePoint 2003 and 2007. NTLM is a suite of authentication and session security protocols.

Google says it has over 6,000 users of its enterprise hardware.

The recent announcement by IBM and Yahoo to offer free enterprise search software raises questions about the future growth of Google's enterprise business, given the price disparity between free and the $30,000-plus price for a GSA. But Glotzbach welcomes the competition, noting that the partnership seems more likely to "strike fear into traditional enterprise search players like Autonomy and Fast."

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