Quite an August 2011: Search and More in Transition

August 25, 2011

I have been watching the computer earthquakes for decades. I have survived the mainframe to mini revolution, the mini to desktop, and the other seismic events which transform the hills and plains of the technology world. My view on the summer 2011 season is easy to sum up: A New Era is upon us.


Major disruption.Source: http://www.theberkeleygraduate.com/2009/10/preparing-for-an-earthquake/

First, consider search. Of the blue chip enterprise search vendors I analyzed in the first edition of the Enterprise Search Report in 2004, there is one independent firm, Endeca. Autonomy, Convera, Exalead, and Fast Search are either out of business (Convera) or absorbed into much larger firms and likely to be integrated into other enterprise solutions. Of this group, only Endeca remains independent, which begs the question, “Why?” Of the 2004 big five—Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, Exalead, and Fast Search & Transfer—only Exalead retains its technical leadership under the Dassault management system. (What then are the management systems of Hewlett Packard and Microsoft? I will let you answer the question.)

The search landscape is now chock-a-block with firms who will have an opportunity to expand their reach and market impact. For a listing of some firms I track, navigate to Overflight. The question is, “Will in the present double dip environment will these promising companies have the money and time required to achieve the type of revenues associated with Autonomy, which was on track to break the $1.0 billion glass ceiling against which many search and content processing have pressed their noses?” On a call with an investment firm this week, I said when asked about a data management vendor’s roll out of an enterprise search system, “Long shot.”

Second, what about Google? The disruptions triggered by Google in August are significant for several reasons. Google purchased Motorola Mobility and acquired additional litigation and intellectual property. Along with the purchase comes a hardware business which seems to be capable of creating friction with some of the companies in the Android ecosystem. More important to me is that the purchase of Motorola Mobility makes clear that the Google of old is no more. The commitment to mobile means that search has to monetize, not deliver on point results. I know that most users find Google the go-to search engine. My concern is that without significant growth in ad revenues, the bets are significant. How does one generate money from traffic? Sell access to that traffic is my answer. Search and Google are now similar to HP. The companies must move forward.

Third, Oracle bought InQuira. Oracle is also doing legal quick steps that may have a significant impact on Google. If the Oracle push is successful, Oracle may squeeze some of the open source excitement from the community. I don’t think InQuira will reinvigorate the basis search and retrieval offering of Oracle, but it does remove one other player from the open market. My view is that search is on a fast track to become a utility. If Oracle’s legal strategy plays out the way I think Oracle intends, open source search and maybe MySQL will be nicked by Oracle’s Hummer racing to the court house.

Fourth, consider HP, which I see as a causality of management and Apple Computer. I don’t know much about Apple other than it seems to be able to make a great deal of money despite what I would describe as so-so search systems. (I heard years ago that Apple gave the Google Search Appliance a spin. The last I heard was a pundit’s remark that Apple had embraced open source.)

My current view is that Apple may have inadvertently driven its heavily modified Nissan Leaf through Hewlett Packard’s employee picnic. HP fumbled the ball with AltaVista.com and now it has used traditional HP management methods to change that company from ink and consumer products to enterprise information services. The senior managers at Autonomy may want to give a tip of the hat to Apple for helping HP reach a decision to acquire Autonomy for an alleged $10 billion.

I want to acknowledge a management shift at Apple. Very sobering. The trajectory of Steve Jobs is the type of path that would have captured the attention of Aeschylus, Euripides or Sophocles.

With the old era of search “dead” and the break with the technology past nearly complete, I recalled this statement: “Time as he grows old teaches all things.”

We have to adapt to the New Era.

Stephen E Arnold, August 25, 2011



One Response to “Quite an August 2011: Search and More in Transition”

  1. Raymond Bentinck on August 26th, 2011 6:05 am

    This is an interesting article. Time sure has had an effect on search companies the world over. So is search going to become a utility as you suggest?

    If we go back to when search technology started. It was invented in order to provide quicker access to information. So is this still relevant today, in its own right or is this just part of a bigger problem/solution?

    I actually believe that both are possible outcomes, we just do not know which one it is yet.

    So, what do I mean? Well, lets look at another company you mentioned in your article, Apple.

    What would have happened if Steve Jobs had not gone back and turned around the company? Well, for one, I would probably be typing this on a PC and not a Mac. But what else? Would we still be able to do pretty much everything we do today with other products. Yes. Would HP still be in the consumer marketplace? Probably. Would Microsoft be selling more Windows OS? Yes.

    Apple transformed their business and as a result many things have happened in the IT industry that are different to what anyone could have predicted. How they did this is both interesting and fundamental to any vendor wishing to emulate their success. It is also not unique to Apple.

    The odds were against them but they succeeded and they changed the computer landscape forever. They have also in the process changed the music industry, the phone market and many other aspects of the consumer marketplace.

    So going back to the original question, will search become a utility? I agree that it is heading that way. But, it does not need to be this way.

    The problem of getting quick access to information and data has not gone away – if anything the problem is more critical now than it was 20 years ago. The revenue potential for search vendors is huge but they are underachieving. All it requires is one vendor to understand this opportunity and what to do. If they do they could, no they should, change the search market forever.

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