The search company said it plans today to introduce Google Enterprise Professional, a partner program for developers, consultants, and independent software vendors interested in extending Google's enterprise search capabilities and in delivering complementary technology and services to Google enterprise customers.
There are some 2,000 such customers at the moment, according to Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise business. That's up more than 100% since last year. "The business is doing really well," he says. "It's, in fact, accelerating. It continues to be very profitable."
By Girouard's count, his unit contributes several million dollars a quarter to Google's coffers, hardly enough to eclipse the company's staggering ad-sales revenue, but respectable nonetheless.
Enterprise search competitors have long suggested that Google's popular search technology isn't up to the complexities of returning relevant results from the variety of data found in company IT systems. Its famed PageRank algorithm is effective because it leverages links created by the Internet community as votes to evaluate relevance on the Web. Since there's no analogous structure inside enterprise systems, competitors argue that Google can't match search technology specifically tuned for use inside the firewall.
That's not a point Google will concede, though Girouard acknowledges that enterprise search is still largely an unsolved problem. "We're definitely seeing situations where customers are having great success and once they have Google Search in their company, employees are asking for more," he says. "They want to get more content in there, more legacy data. And that gets into areas where we don't have expertise, so a lot of this [is] about partners that can help drive the Google search deeper into these companies, into data silos and locations and environments where they have more expertise than we do."
It may be tempting to spin Google's outreach initiative as an admission of weakness inside the firewall -- Google's success of late has competitors hurling epithets and chairs, and they'd no doubt welcome some setbacks. But IDC analyst Sue Feldman interprets the move as a sign of maturity. "When software companies arrive, they very often develop a partner program," she explains, pointing to other companies with similar programs including IBM, Microsoft, and Verity.
It's also a move that follows the money, specifically federal dollars: Google by its own account has been doing well in Washington, but has been constrained in how it can serve customers that deal with classified information. Its engineers lack the security clearance to enter many intelligence and defense facilities. That's where partners with federal connections, like Herndon, Va.-based LMN Solutions, come into play.
More broadly, government agencies are likely to be receptive to Google's search hardware because of its low cost, ease of use, and ease of installation. Various E-government mandates also require federal agencies to make their documents accessible online, and Google's boxes make that possible without budgetary contortions or epic integration battles.
But once Google gets in the door, that's just the beginning. "We don't pre-announce things," Girouard says, "but we certainly believe that once you have a bright, shiny Google box in your data center, or, for that matter, a Google search application on your desktop inside a big company, getting the next application on the desktop or the next box in the data center is a lot easier."