The Google Search Appliance Adds Bells and Whistles
October 18, 2012
A version of this article appears on the www.citizentekk.com Web site.
The Google Search Appliance is getting along in year. A couple of weeks ago (October 2012), Google announced that Version 7.0 of the Google Search Appliance GB-7007 and the GB-9009 was available. The features of the new system are long-overdue in my opinion. Among the new features are two highly desirable enhancements: better security controls, faceted browsing. But the killer feature, in my opinion, is support of the Google Translate application programming interface.
Microsoft will have to differentiate the now aging SharePoint Search 2013 from a Google Search Appliance. Why? GSA Version 7 can be plugged into a SharePoint environment and the system will, without much or fuss, index the SharePoint content. Plug and play is not what SharePoint Search 2013 delivers. The fast deployment of a GSA remains one of its killer features. Simplicity and ease of use are important. When one adds Google magic, the GSA Version 7 can be another thrust at Microsoft’s enterprise business.
Google has examined competitive search solutions and, in my opinion, made some good decisions. For example, a user may add a comment to a record displayed in a results list. The idea of allowing enterprise users add value to a record was a popular feature of Vivisimo Velocity. But since IBM acquired Vivisimo, that company has trotted down the big data trail.
Endeca has for more than 12 years offered licensees of its systems point-and-click navigation. An Endeca search solution can slash the time it takes for a user to pinpoint content related to a query. Google has made the GSA more Endeca like while retaining the simplified deployment which characterizes an appliance solution.
As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the most compelling features of the Version 7 GSAs is direct support for Google Translate. Organizations increasingly deal with mixed language documents. Product and market research will benefit from Google’s deep support of languages. At last count, Google Translate supported more than 60 languages, excluding Latin and Pig Latin. Now Google is accelerating its language support due to its scale and data sets. Coupled with Google’s smart software, the language feature may be tough for other vendors to match.
Enterprise searchers want to be able to examine a document quickly. To meet this need, Google has implemented in-line document preview. A user can click on a hit and see a rendering of the document without having to launch the native applications. A PDF in a results list appears without waiting the seconds it takes for Adobe Reader or FoxIt to fetch and display the document.
What’s not to like? The GSA GB-7007 and GB-9009 delivers most of the most-wanted features to make content searchable regardless of resource. If a proprietary file type must be indexed, Google provides developers with enough information to get the content into a form which the GSA can process. Failing that, Google partners and third-party vendors can deliver specialized connectors quickly.
Our work with Google Search Appliances allows me to point out that the GSA is a worthy competitor in the enterprise search market. For many organizations, licensing a GSA for two years will allow an organization to deploy a highly-usable system quickly. We once deployed a circa 2004 GB-1001 in less than two hours. A person familiar with Google conventions can easily match this roll out time. For large installations with multiple GSAs and specialized security requirements, the time window will be greater. But compared to an enterprise search solution which arrives as a box of components and utilities, the GSA will be a speedy and relatively painless solution for most information technology professionals.
Are there downsides?
Sure. No enterprise search solution is perfect. In the information which Google made available to me, Google points out: “Search in the enterprise isn’t a solved problem. 60 percent of workers say it is hard to find information in their organization.” I agree.
Based on the interviews I conducted when writing the first three editions of the Enterprise Search Report (2003-2007) and my 2011 study The New Landscape of Enterprise Search, there were some considerations which may influence those responsible for selecting and deploying an enterprise search system.
First, the “Google magic” is a powerful force and has replaced the Apple reality distortion field as the super marketing method. However, most of the competitors’ search systems allow the administrator of the system to exercise control over relevancy, document weighting, and hit boosting. The idea is that in an enterprise certain content must appear in certain results lists. Competitors’ systems allow fine grained control of these features. Even Autonomy with its “black box” IDOL system allows the administrator to control certain aspects of relevancy. Retraining the automated system may be required, but Autonomy makes it possible for a system administrator to tune the system outputs. The original Fast Search & Transfer system accommodated certain types of hit boosting by allowing an administrator to adjust weighting thresholds. The point is that Google delivers an appliance. Certain fine-grained controls may be difficult, if not impossible, to access.
Second, Google’s pricing is not widely publicized. The GSA is expensive and uses a taxi meter approach to pricing. Resellers and partners license the device, provide various first-line support services, and work with licensees. My experience with partners like Adhere Solutions in Washington, DC has been outstanding. However, other partners may have different skills or priorities. When an upgrade is requested, the partner may deliver additional GSAs, but sticker shock is possible. Pricing for top of the line units is in the six figure range. When a GSA reaches its indexing capacity, the licensee must acquire another GSA or upgrade an existing GSA. Either way, the cost can be significant. Google uses a taxi meter approach to pricing. You can get a sense of the discounted cost of a GSA license by visiting the US government Web site GSA Advantage and running a query for “GB-9009.” Yes, that is a $300,000 price tag for a single appliance.
Third, the Google Search Appliance is a non-virtual solution. Many enterprise search system vendors offer cloud solutions. These range from niche-focused solutions from Blossom Software to robust open source solutions from LucidWorks to next generation vendors like PolySpot, among others. Amazon’s “search as a service” which is available to Amazon developers and customers runs from the cloud. One can argue that Google is the dominant cloud centric provider of search. The GSA, therefore, is a complement to Google’s cloud-based services. But it does stand out as an on-premises solution in a world where the cloud and virtualization are gaining momentum.
Google’s recent upgrade of the GSA brings useful new features to organizations. With this upgrade, Google has revived the GSA product line as an option for organizations looking for a way to deploy a search solution without some of the time consuming and complex installation work many vendors’ solutions require. Will Google be able to leverage the potential of Version 7 of the Google Search Appliance? For the first time, the GSA may raise the stakes for enterprise search.
What about customer support? Just call a partner like Adhere Solutions.
Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2012
Note: Mr. Arnold is a consultant. More information about his practice is available at www.arnoldit.com and in his Web log at www.arnoldit.com/wordpress. You can obtain his monthly, limited distribution newsletter by writing email@example.com.