Search Moves Well Beyond Google - InformationWeek

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6/8/2006
06:25 PM
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Search Moves Well Beyond Google

Enterprise tools combine some of Google's simplicity with algorithms and knobs and dials that find everything for everyone

Search for "enterprise search" and you'll find Google Enterprise. It's the top result returned by Google and Yahoo, and the third returned by Windows Live. But Google isn't the answer for every company.

Your choice of a search tool depends on what you need. "Google's search appliance doesn't really have very many dials and knobs to tune it or adjust it," says Susan Aldrich, senior VP of IT research firm the Patricia Seybold Group. "The premium search engines--Autonomy, Endeca, Fast--those have lots of dials and knobs."

FirstGov.gov, the official U.S. government Web portal, needed some of those complex search capabilities when it was relaunched in January. It went with Microsoft's MSN Search and Vivisimo's Velocity platform, which has clustering technology that organizes search results into conceptual categories. One of the goals was to use Vivisimo's clustering algorithm--available to consumers through its Clusty.com search engine--to categorize results in discrete groups and to make navigating the massive amount of government information online faster and easier.

"You look not only at price but at the technology," says M.J. Pizzella, associate administrator of the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Communications. FirstGov's old system, supplied by AT&T and Fast Search & Transfer, couldn't keep up with the growing number of documents online, she says. Vivisimo "gave us this Clusty technology ... and that's great stuff," Pizzella says. She gives high marks to the way clustered category links make daunting linear lists of search results comprehensible.

In addition to more advanced technology, the new search system is saving FirstGov money. With its previous system, the site could handle about 8 million Web documents at a cost of $3.2 million annually. The new one manages 40 million documents at a cost of $1.8 million a year.

Search IS Everywhere
Like FirstGov, many organizations can make a business case for more complicated search tools with all the knobs and dials. But users gravitate toward simplicity. "Google's overly friendly interface has moved from the public Internet onto desktops of business users around the globe," Forrester Research analysts Matthew Brown and Laura Ramos say in a report. "This has left companies asking why they should pay the tab for software and services associated with large-scale enterprise search."

Enterprise search vendors either define their market as a place where Google isn't or insist that they can compete in terms of price, interface, and technology. "We disagree 100% that search is a commodity," says Vivisimo's CEO, Raul Valdes-Perez.

But search costs in general are coming down because the technology is everywhere. IBM and Microsoft include search in their major products. Oracle is moving aggressively into the market with products like Oracle Secure Enterprise Search 10g. And Google is more than happy to augment those capabilities with its browser toolbar, desktop search app, Internet site, and enterprise appliances. Just try to find a reasonably modern computer without search.

Google now has more than 4,000 enterprise customers, including Cisco Systems and Eli Lilly. About 1,000 of those came aboard in the first quarter of the year. Google's enterprise group accounted for between 1% and 2% of its overall revenue--$60 million to $120 million annually. Sales should increase by more than 100% in 2006, says Matthew Glotzbach, head of products for Google's enterprise division. Toward the end of 2007, if its weedlike growth continues, Google may well displace Autonomy as the revenue leader in enterprise search.

Autonomy positions itself as a provider of meaning-based technology--its software can distinguish between Domino's Pizza and dominoes, the game. The company cemented its market-leader position when it bought Verity and its 16,000 business customers in December.

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