Appliance key to market, even to cloud leader Google

Computerworld NZ interviews Google enterprise product manager Cyrus Mistry

Data searches within the enterprise may one day be delegated entirely to the cloud, says Google enterprise product manager Cyrus Mistry in an exclusive interview with Computerworld.

At present, however, most customers are wary of letting Google through their firewall to index their data and prefer to have the distinctive yellow box that is the Google Search Appliance securely in their own server-room.

"The appliance needs full access to every last piece of content within the enterprise," Mistry says. "In order to get access to their legacy systems we need to be inside their firewall. We have a hosted solution, Google Site Search, but the appliance is the one most customers choose for inside-their-firewall content."

Mistry was here in mid-September to promote the Google Search Appliance to local prospects, in concert with local partner Fronde.

Some day it could well be that most customers will trust Google to punch a hole in their firewall, he says and the search appliance would become less relevant. "It would be a secure tunnel, of course, but yes, that could be done technically. It's purely a customer issue."

It may seem almost contradictory to champion the cloud as much as Google does with Gmail and GoogleApps and then develop a dedicated box for enterprise search, but Google sees the two solutions as reflecting a similar attitude in contrast to conventional applications' software development.

"We want it to be hours or at most days to set up. We don't want it to be months and years, which is how traditional enterprise software works. Whether you're talking about cloud apps or enterprise search, we want it to be easy," Mistry says.

Google's current competition in the enterprise search arena, such as Microsoft, thinks in the traditional, less agile enterprise software development way, he suggests. "No one else has done it in a plug-and-play model," he says. "They've all approached it in a traditional enterprise way, which requires many man-hours to set up."

Part of this approach is continuous innovation. Just as cloud applications give every customer the latest continually updated version on tap, so frequent updates are provided as small downloads for the Google Search Appliance.

"One of our competitors had a release in 2003 and [the next one in] 2007. We are releasing something literally every two months," Mistry says, "and a major release every six months. These are add-ons; they are literally pick-and-choose."

Google is not overwhelming, confusing and discouraging customers with continual compulsory updates, he says. Nevertheless, "you get constant momentum and excitement around search. Search should be something in the company that helps people be more productive, but is also fun and social". A social atmosphere is engendered, for example, by users giving their own input to ranking of sources they have found useful.

Asked to comment specifically on Microsoft's planned search enhancements, based on its acquisition of FAST (Computerworld, July 24), Mistry manages to be respectful and at the same time dismissive.

"Even after their 2007 [Sharepoint] release they acquired a specialist enterprise search company. By doing that they validated that Sharepoint wasn't a viable enterprise search alternative. As for FAST -- I don't want to be disparaging, but I believe Google has the best relevance."

The relevance of search findings to the topic on which information is sought is a crucial measure and can be quite objective, Mistry says. "There are third-party datasets out there that consist of three things: millions of enterprise documents, sets of 500 to 3000 queries and relevance judgements of every query for every single document, meaning 'for this query was this document relevant'?"

These can be run against any search engine and will produce an objective score and, he says, Google is still in front.

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