IBM Opens Up on Enterprise Search

Analysts give Big Blue a thumbs-up for both vision and execution

Last week, IBM Corp. announced plans to make its Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA) available as open-source software. Big Blue positions UIMA as an über-search technology that can parse text within documents and other content sources to discover latent meanings, buried relationships, and relevant facts.

Analysts give IBM a thumbs-up for both vision and execution. After all, Big Blue announced the open sourcing of UIMA in tandem with the release of its WebSphere Information Integrator Omnifind Edition, an enterprise information integration (EII) tool based on the UIMA architecture.

The UIMA open-source announcement helps garner additional publicity for IBM, analysts say, and positions Big Blue as an instant leader in the burgeoning market for search technologies.

IBM says UIMA is the product of a lengthy R&D effort stretching back to 2001. It was enabled in part by contributions from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). IBM and DARPA also formed a working group—composed of leading universities and other research organizations—to help steer its development.

Rob Lerner, a senior analyst for application infrastructure with consultancy Current Analysis Inc., says UIMA helps enable the creation and integration of unstructured information management solutions that offer semantic analysis and search components. In this respect, he says, UIMA far outstrips vanilla keyword search technologies. “The UIMA platform overcomes the limitations of keyword searches to provide relevant results … from across an organization’s entire information assets,” Lerner explains. “It is an open platform that can integrate tools and applications from disparate vendors in order to enhance and/or create new search and knowledge solutions.”

As for making UIMA available as open-source software through the popular Web site, Lerner thinks it’s a savvy move.

“[I]t reflects IBM’s increasing efforts to increase its position in the open-source community. In this case, it also appears designed to encourage vendors and developers to develop products and services based on the UIMA, hence making the UIMA an industry standard. Obviously, this will benefit IBM and open more avenues for its technology, especially among small companies that find the costs of enterprise search sometimes prohibitive.”

IBM buttressed its UIMA gambit with a pair of related announcements. For starters, Big Blue announced its WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition, the first product based on UIMA. OmniFind Edition uses text analysis to search enterprise intranets and the Web. It taps IBM’s Practical Intelligent Question Answering Technology (PIQUANT), which officials say can discover relevant information even if a keyword is missing.

Secondly, Big Blue trumpeted support from 16 key players in the enterprise search and text mining markets—including SAS Institute Inc., SPSS Inc., and Cognos Inc. If nothing else, says Lerner, the support of these vendors and others should give both UIMA and IBM a strong boost in a highly competitive enterprise search market. Moreover, it looks like IBM’s partners are serious about innovating on top of the open-source UIMA platform. In tandem with its UIMA partnership announcement, IBM showcased some of the solutions vendors are developing on top of UIMA. One such application is called Advanced Intelligence for Anti-Terrorism and Law Enforcement, and Big Blue says its partners will deliver a number of similar applications before the end of the year.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.