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11/21/2006
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New Technology Seeks To Let Startups Build Their Own Googles

Open source search projects such as Hadoop, Lucene, and Nutch, combined with affordable, on-demand computing through Amazon Web Services, are putting scalable search infrastructure within the reach of most startups.

One of the first questions online startups typically face these days from potential investors is "Why couldn't Google build this?" Entrepreneurs are beginning to respond, "Why couldn't we build Google?"

The slow but steady maturation of open source search projects like Hadoop, Lucene, and Nutch, combined with the availability of affordable, on-demand computing through Amazon Web Services, suggest that scalable search infrastructure is well within the reach of most startups.

Hadoop is a framework for running applications on clusters of commodity hardware that duplicates the functions of the distributed Google File System and Google's MapReduce algorithm for processing large data sets. Lucene is a Java-based search and indexing system. Nutch expands on Lucene by adding Web-based crawling and additional search capabilities.

These open source search projects already are in use at companies and organizations such as Krugle, Powerset, Wikipedia, and Zimbra.

Krugle, a search engine for programmers that helps users find code and technical information online, is built on Nutch and Lucene. "It would have been impossible for us to create the capability that we have and go live in the speed that we did without Nutch and Lucene," says Krugle CEO Steve Larsen. "They were extremely important to us being able to solve the technical problems that we did in a short amount of time."

Access to the code also was important, says CTO Ken Krugler, "so we had the flexibility for the things that we needed for a vertical solution. The commercial solutions are much more restrictive. It's harder to tweak it and form it to what you need."

Krugle maintains about 100 servers at a collocation facility. Krugler says Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud looks promising but he sees it more for companies that are just getting started. The cloud, also referred to as EC2, is simply virtual processing power than can be paid for as needed.

"It scales better than doing a co-host setup," says Krugler, though he still considers it too new to rely on. "Technically it ought to scale, but you just don't know."

Search startup Powerset is using EC2 to power its forthcoming natural language search site, apparently without any such reservations.

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