In a partnership reminiscent of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, IBM and Yahoo have come together to offer free enterprise search software.
The two companies — one built for business, the other caught between geeks and glamour — on Wednesday plan to announce the availability of IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, entry-level search software for corporate Linux and Windows servers. The software is available at no cost from Yahoo.com.
"We think it's a very complementary relationship," says Marc Andrews, program director for information management strategies at IBM. "Yahoo brings that consumer view of the market and a view into small businesses, and also the awareness around Web search and easy search for the average user." IBM, he says, brings "an understanding of enterprise-oriented systems."
Those familiar with the installation of such systems — historically as pricey and painful as a multi-month root canal — may be surprised to find that IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition has been designed to install in five minutes, in three clicks or less.
Evidently, the customer loyalty that Yahoo, not to mention Google, has earned through simple, friendly, inexpensive software has turned some heads at IBM. "I think there's a recognition that people are looking for ease of use," says Andrews.
The new search software caters to companies looking to add basic search functionality to intranets and Web sites. It integrates with Yahoo Search for Internet queries.
IBM is hoping that users of its free software will like what they see and want to add to more sophisticated tools that deliver more substantial revenue. "We actually believe that search is really only the start of the value proposition for enterprises," says Andrews.
Yahoo, meanwhile, hopes to increase awareness of its services among businesspeople. "We haven't been in the enterprise business space per se," says Eckart Walther, vice president of product management for Yahoo! Search, "but our products are used in the enterprise." He points to Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Small Business, and Yahoo HotJobs as examples.
Walther plays down the impact of an IBM/Yahoo alliance on Google, which has been working steadily since 2002 to get its search hardware inside enterprises. "There're a lot of people in the enterprise search space," he says. "There's Verity, IBM, Oracle. So I don't think it's necessarily a shot across the Google's bow, but more just finding a great partner and working with them. I think we'd be doing this even if Google were not in this space."
But Forrester Research analyst Matt Brown sees the situation differently. "I think this announcement is going to create headaches for Google Enterprise," says Brown. "Their Mini line of products has been very successful for them.Suddenly here's a downloadable search tool that has the capacity of the Google Search Appliance being given away for free." The IBM/Yahoo software supports up to 500,000 documents per server, the same number as the Google Search Appliance.
Brown acknowledges that there's still a cost of ownership for IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, but adds that the servers required to run the software cost only a few hundred dollars, compared to $1995 for a Google Mini and $30,000 for a Google Search Appliance.
For Eric Brierley, CTO of Decision Critical, Inc., an online health information service for hospitals that has been testing the IBM/Yahoo search software, price matters. "We were looking for something that was low cost but still flexible," he says. "Free is a great price point from our perspective."
Installation time was more than five minutes, however. Brierley says the software took about 30 minutes to install, after which four to five hours were needed for customization.
IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition is based on the open source Lucene indexing library. As Walther sees it, the increasing use of open source search technology by companies is significant. "More and more, we see these kinds of products being commoditized by open source," he says. "Quite frankly, I think you're going to see us [Yahoo] more and more investing in open source to create some of the next generation infrastructure for search and for massive data management, clustering, parallelization and the like."