The upgunned Google Search Appliance includes a feature called Google OneBox for Enterprise that extends the familiar Google keyword search box to encompass a broader array of information.
"It's not just looking through Web pages," says Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise business. "It's actually a front door to business applications."
OneBox enables the insertion of real-time business data into search results. It also allows Google's enterprise hardware to search virtually all content and business data, whether dynamic, such as rapidly changing transactional data; structured, such as organized information in a database; or unstructured, such as Web pages or documents on a file server.
Earlier iterations of Google's search hardware have had the ability to index structured and unstructured data for more than a year, but haven't had an efficient way to access dynamic data.
The traditional way to search data from outside enterprise applications involves crawling and indexing published XML feeds. Google OneBox is a method to call those applications directly. As such, it's more resource-efficient.
OneBox modules reach out in real time and fetch results rather than indexing enterprise data stores, Girouard says. A business user could thus view dynamic customer information from Salesforce.com or financial data in Oracle Financials through a query entered into the Google search box.
Chris Weitz, head of BearingPoint's search solutions practice, says OneBox represents a meaningful step forward, and he expects it will make Google more competitive against high-end enterprise search vendors such as Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, and Fast. BearingPoint is one of Google's enterprise partners.
In some areas, such as the ability to categorize information, Google still lags behind the competition. But Google has other advantages, primarily its user interface. Almost every computer user knows how to interact with Google's simple search box and its results page. And as search becomes commoditized, Google's ability to offer new functionality from the same old interface should cement Google's status as a critical business tool.
Familiarity breeds contentment, at least when compared with information technology that's complicated enough to require training.
"Presenting information and making it usable and useful and consumable is really the most difficult part of this, [along with] putting it into a UI that everybody understands," says Greg Dowling, an analyst with Jupiter Research.
Keith Collins, CTO of business analytics software company SAS, says his company partnered with Google to help make business intelligence more accessible for customers. As he sees it, the search box will improve information access. "It's about a simple interface that allows you to search across multiple types of information and get it all back as a collection," he says.
Google, as Girouard describes it, "is an uber-command line interface to the world, but it's a command line where you don't need to know the syntax to make it useful."
For Collins, search is part of the solution, but not all of it. "Search doesn't help you with workflow or process," he observes.
The task of packaging information to make it accessible and useful falls to Google and its developer partners. That's where Google OneBox modules come in. These bits of code help transform data to make it searchable and presentable. The new Google Enterprise Developer Program aims to help developers build these modular bridges to the Google search box.
Girouard would like to see the Google Enterprise Developer Community match the success of Google Maps, which through Google's map API has spawned hundreds of Web sites that mix map data with other information sources. "We're not just aiming to partner with the big guys," he says.
Google's new enterprise partners--Cisco, Cognos, Employease, NetSuite, Oracle, Salesforce.com, and SAS--don't quite qualify as little guys. They do, however, make Google a more credible threat to upmarket enterprise search vendors that now face a tougher time differentiating their products.
Partnerships aside, Google's enterprise unit has had a good year. It now counts more than 3,000 customers and claims sales growth of more than 100% in 2005. The enterprise search market grew 25% overall last year, according to IDC analyst Sue Feldman.
Dozens of search modules that perform in ways similar to OneBox modules are already on Google.com. They present specific types of information in a format that's more intelligible than the standard list of query results. Searches for popular musical performers, for example, return a picture of the artist in question and a link to a list of recordings. Searches for stock ticker symbols, which return graphs and price information, represent another example.
For Cisco, OneBox provides a way to tie its conferencing system to the Google search box. "What we've done is taken one of our pieces of structured data--in this case our MeetingPlace Express rich media conferencing system that provides audio and Web conferencing--and we've exposed our database from that system to the Google OneBox appliance," says Joe Burton, director of engineering at Cisco's unified communications business unit.
The result is that information associated with the conferencing system--appointments, past meetings, contact information, and presence information--is immediately accessible through Google's browser-based interface.
Burton says the programming required to produce the OneBox module was minimal and that security issues have been given due thought. "We were very satisfied that the security was done is such a way that you could get to the data that you were entitled to, but no more," he says.
Security is always an issue with corporate data, and the updated Google Search Appliance appears to have been built to accommodate such concerns. It features a SAML authentication interface, native LDAP authentication, and the ability to search secure content through support for X.509 client certificates.
The new model Google Search Appliance (GB-1001) can now handle twice as many documents--3 million, up from 1.5 million documents--and five times as many queries, up to 1,500 per minute from 300. It also includes the ability to index external metadata repositories and the ability to expand queries based on context and synonyms. Google has also updated its Google Mini search box by reducing its size and increasing its speed, among other improvements.