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New role for Google

Source: FCW.com


Company pitches search appliance for agency intranets

Google Inc. officials introduced a new version of the Google Search Appliance last week, a move company officials hope will help the popular Internet search engine developer make inroads into the intranet market and become even more appealing to government agencies.

First launched in 2002, the search appliance is already in use by agencies such as the departments of Energy, Education and Defense and by state governments, including Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia. The new version comes shortly after company officials announced the initial public offering of their stock, which greatly interested investors all over the world.

The original appliance held up to 300,000 documents and could perform approximately 60 queries per minute. Agencies, however, continue to put more and more information on their intranets and many, particularly at the state and local levels, are using the search appliance to open their documents to the public. Designed to accommodate that expansion, Google's new version supports up to 1.5 million documents with queries performed at about five times the previous speed, said Dave Girouard, general manager for Google's enterprise group.

Its ability to continuously search the network for new documents a change from the previous periodic batch checks helps keep search results up-to-date and cuts down on bandwidth problems, Girouard said.

"This begins to be strong enough to support the full enterprise," he said.

Arkansas has been using the current search appliance since 2002, moving to it after years of trying to use free open-source search engines. "Those just weren't meeting our needs," said Janet Grard, general manager with NIC Inc., which runs the state's Web portal under the oversight of the Information Network of Arkansas.

The Google appliance was easy to install and the basic administrative features, such as the support for multiple file formats, have been critical, Grard said. "It is very flexible, and it provides the quality search results we need."

For users with even greater needs, there are clustered versions with five or eight of the appliances grouped together that provide much greater capacity. Clusters can be placed and administered anywhere geographically, so they also provide redundancy, Girouard said.

As easy and comfortable as it is for users and administrators, however, the Google Search Appliance is not the solution for everyone seeking access to their documents, said Sue Feldman, research vice president of content technologies at IDC.

"There are large enterprise installations that have very knowledgeable staff and have very specific things that they want to have in their search," she said. "And then there are smaller organizations, and they just want to provide access to their documents and, by God, all they want is [the] Google" Internet search engine.

The search appliance relies on the same basic technology as the search engine with which so many are familiar. In addition to focusing on a defined set of pages instead of the entire Internet, the biggest difference is that administrators can easily control security and access. Many agency documents are not intended for general view.

In the new version, the security is based on HTML forms that pull the authentication and authorization rules for users from existing policies, such as those in Microsoft Corp.'s Active Directory in Windows.

"Our system will essentially inherit the credentials for each document," Girouard said. "What we're trying to avoid is the search engine becoming a leak."

There are also usage reports to tell administrators what documents users are pulling up, tools to automatically find and report broken links and the ability to prioritize documents through a tool called KeyMatch. That tool allows administrators to set certain documents to be highlighted in some way, ensuring that users will notice them when certain searches are performed, such as flagging a new payroll form for searches involving the words "pay" or "benefits."

That last feature has been particularly helpful, because officials often want to make sure people see specific documents or services, Grard said.

Arkansas officials have not tested the new version of the appliance yet, although the state's contract is up for renewal soon, Grard said. But beyond the greater capacity and faster search times, the new continuous crawling of the network would be a big plus, ensuring that government users and citizens are finding the most up-to-date information and documents, she said.

The Google Search Appliance is fairly inexpensive compared to full document management applications, with a baseline cost of $32,000. That seems to be a big draw for many government agencies that are looking to get some basic capability for their users, particularly at the state and local levels where budgets are tighter, Girouard said.

For cash-strapped agencies, the increased capacity and search time "means you're getting more bang for your buck," Feldman said. "If you just want to plug it in and go it's pretty affordable compared to some of the search applications."

That really is the appliance's selling point, she said. It doesn't take much time and it takes little expertise for a system administrator to install it and get it going. It will not, however, replace a full document-management application, and organizations have to decide which capability they need and whether they have the technology and expertise to meet that need.

"You've got basic search vs. lots of flexibility and lots of features it's just a different approach," Feldman said.

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June. 07,  ISSUE #028

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