Google upgrades enterprise search products

Google revamped its enterprise search devices on Wednesday when it announced a new version of its Google Mini for small and medium-sized businesses and an upgrade to its Search Appliance for larger organizations.

The Search Appliance upgrade includes a feature called OneBox, which lets the engine identify the overall intent of certain queries and compile and present certain data at the top of the search results list that may satisfy the user's information needs.

OneBox, which already exists on the Google.com search engine, is meant to save users from having to click on search results by presenting them with a digest of data.

For example, the Google.com search engine returns at the top of search results a box with current weather data for Dallas if a user enters that city's name along with the term "weather." It has others for stock information, package tracking and airline flight times.

Now, the Search Appliance will be able to replicate this feature for workplace information, such as human resources data, sales transaction details and employee contact and calendar information.

This feature differentiates the Search Appliance from competing enterprise search products from vendors such as Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer, said Hadley Reynolds, a Delphi Group analyst.

OneBox is particularly innovative because it opens up the possibility to deliver Web services to users within the context of their enterprise search activities. "This is a capability enterprise search users haven't seen before," Reynolds said.

However, the Search Appliance still isn't as robust or as sophisticated as Autonomy and Fast Search products, Reynolds said.

To activate the Search Appliance's OneBox functionality, users need to download free modules built for this purpose. There will be about 20 ready on Wednesday that will allow the Search Appliance to create OneBox digests of data gathered from applications from Cisco Systems, Cognos, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP and Salesforce.com., among others. Google is also publishing an open application programming interface (API) to let any developer create OneBox modules for the Search Appliance.

While the OneBox feature is impressive, the high-profile collaboration with tier-1 enterprise IT vendors is also noteworthy, because it will help Google increase its credibility as a provider with chief information officers and IT managers, said Jim Murphy, an analyst with AMR Research.

Other enhancements to the Search Appliance include improved security and authentication capabilities and more relevant results. The device's performance has also been improved through software, with a 500 percent increase in queries per second and a 100 percent increase in its index size.

The Search Appliance upgrade will be made available to existing customers before the end of the month via a free software download at http://code.google.com/enterprise. On this Web page, users will also find information about the OneBox modules, as well as resources for developers, including software development kits and documentation.

Google also began shipping on Wednesday a new version of the Google Mini that is half the size and weight of the current one but able to process 25 queries per second, up from 1 query per second. This next-generation Google Mini will cost the same as current versions of the product.

The Search Appliance and Google Mini are hardware devices loaded with search engine software designed to let companies index and retrieve information stored on corporate servers.

The Google Mini starts at US$1,995 with a capacity to index as many as 50,000 documents, while the Search Appliance starts at US$30,000 with a 500,000-document capacity.

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