Last week, Google dramatically upped the ante in the rapidly developing enterprise search-scape. This article is the first of a two-part series.
If there’s one thing you don’t want in an enterprise search technology, some search players paradoxically claim, it’s a Google-like search experience.
Customers don’t seem to have gotten that memo, however. Nor has Google.
Several years ago, the search engine powerhouse introduced the Google Search Appliance, its first branded entry in the still-gestating enterprise search segment. Then, last January, Google shipped the first of its “Mini” document and content search appliances.
Just last week, Google was at it again, announcing a revamped version of its Google Search Appliance that includes a partner-friendly facility—called Google OneBox Enterprise—which provides category- and function-specific enterprise search capabilities. Google enlisted a bevy of business intelligence (BI) partners to help promote its new search entry, including Cognos Inc., Oracle Corp., Salesforce.com, and SAS Institute Inc.
At times in the past, search players have tried to downplay Google’s potential impact in the enterprise search segment. IBM Corp. distinguished engineer Nelson Mattos, who heads up Big Blue’s Information Integrator OmniFind search effort, suggested that the celebrated Google search dragnet—which in the Web search model returns anything and everything that’s material to a query—wouldn’t resonate with SOX-conscious and security-obsessed enterprise buyers. (http://www.adtmag.com/article.aspx?id=11013&page=1)
Mattos sets up something of a straw man here, though. Google’s Search Appliance isn’t just a repackaging of its promiscuous Web search technology in an appliance form-factor with an enterprise-friendly brand. Instead, officials say, Google’s eponymous Search Appliance is designed to interoperate with a customer’s existing security and access control technologies. As a result, users see only the search results that are appropriate to their roles and responsibilities.
“So our goal is to protect the security of [a customer’s environment], but do it in a fast, simple, easy-to-use and straightforward manner,” says Matthew Glotzbach, product manager for Google Enterprise. “So underneath that thin simple HTML [search] interface sit a host of technological mechanisms concerning security and access control—for example, as we index the information, we can also understand how the information is secured, such that when a user conducts a search, we actually go and check in real time to see if the user has access to those same results. We also integrate with a variety of different types of security systems, including single sign-on, HTTP [SSL], [NT LAN Manager], and SAML.”
On the Web or in the enterprise, Glotzbach stresses, Google aims to offer a consistent, easy-to-use search experience. That, he argues, is his company’s most recognizable selling point. “Although the underlying technologies and the things that you have to do to provide the capabilities [for Web and Internet search] are significantly different, because of security issues and what not, that doesn’t mean the user experience should or needs to be different,” he says. “Our view is that users have come to expect to be able to go to google.com, type in a few search keywords, and in less than a second get back the right answer. We want to provide that same capability inside the enterprise—[in this case] an ability to search results across the enterprise that are specific to [a user’s role].”
Google officials call this concept—i.e., putting the breadth of enterprise information at a user’s fingertips—reach. To help strengthen its reach into (and grasp of) non-bread-and-butter information-types—such as application-specific content, business intelligence content, and other kinds of proprietary or specialty information—Google launched OneBox Enterprise, an API-based initiative to incorporate Google Search Appliance capabilities into enterprise applications.
The upshot, Galzbach says, is that anyone—from Jane Doe, Open Source Developer to the most stalwart of ISVs—can use its OneBox APIs to build Search Appliance providers for their projects. “Your search experience is only as good as the information that you’re actually searching over, so if a user comes and does a search, but they don’t find what they’ve been looking for, it might be because the information [hasn’t been made] available to the search system,” Galzbach explains. “The announcement we made with OneBox is [part of an effort] … to call out to business applications and get information from them.”
They can also publish OneBox modules (e.g., Cognos has developed Report, Metrics, and Search modules) that tell the Google Search Appliance how to parse, format, and interoperate with their application-specific content. “You can go on to our module gallery today and look at the various Cognos modules or SAS modules that are published there, and you can actually download that data definition file, and that’s the piece you would import into the search appliance,” Galzbach explains. “The backend [piece], which will be called by the provider at runtime, that’s actually built into the Cognos system, or the SAS system, either as [part of] a core offering or [as an] add-on.”
Galzbach stresses that the Google Search Appliance—via OneBox—doesn’t simply crawl through and index static application content, however. Instead, he explains, it provides the mechanism by which organizations can programmatically expose results to users; based in some cases on real-time information. “There’s this whole other dimension of business data that isn’t something that you would go crawl and index, but it’s something you would call out in real time to answer questions that an employee might have, things like, ‘What’s the status of a purchase order?’ or ‘Show me all the leads in our CRM system for this account,’” Galzbach says. “Those are all bits of information that exist in the enterprise applications that power the business, but—until we released this OneBox capability—were oftentimes difficult to find, difficult to access for the employees who need that information.”
A host of BI players were on board last week to fete Google’s OneBox announcement—including Oracle, which (nearly two months ago) announced its own enterprise search entry. Next Week, we’ll speak with Google, Cognos, SAS, and other players about the rapidly developing state of enterprise search.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.