Google Search Appliance gets capacity boost

Google Inc. has rolled out several new features to its Search Appliance, an integrated hardware and software device designed for use behind corporate firewalls. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also announced a slew of new enterprise customers including The Boeing Co., Cisco Systems Inc., and The World Bank.

New enhancements to the appliance include boosted capacity, support for more content types, and simplified Web-based administration.

The Linux-based Search Appliance, first introduced in February, crawls content and Web pages using Google’s code base and PageRank, a search technique that aims to determine relevancy of links. The appliance comes in two versions: GB-1001, designed for departments and midsize companies; and the higher capacity GB-8008, for large corporate settings.

The new version of GB-1001 now supports 300,000 documents, doubling its capacity, according to John Piscitello, product manager. Capacity remains unchanged for the GB-8008, which also includes built-in clustering, load balancing, fail over, and existing capacity to support millions of documents, according to Google officials.

In addition, Google crawlers can now search Windows NT LAN Manager domains and handle session ID environments. Support for the native security model in NT allows the search appliance to access protected information, Piscitello said. Meanwhile, the ability to crawl session ID systems opens the door to content housed in J2EE-based applications, CM (content management) systems, and e-commerce products, he said.

Other enhancements include point-and-click Web-based administration, simplified navigation, a customizable search results interface, support for Lotus Domino repositories, URL tracking and analysis, and auto spell check.

Another feature, the Page Layout Helper, serves up search results in XML, and uses XSLT to translate to results to HTML.

Google’s appliance approach to the enterprise search conundrum helps minimize costs and makes it easer to incorporate upgrades, Piscitello said. Customers of the appliance receive two years of free updates.

Dropping a box in a rack means, enterprises “don’t have to worry about the OS, it is more reliable, easier to manage, and takes IT out of the equation,” he said.

Furthermore, Google is making use of the fact that hardware is inexpensive, he said.

“Preinstalling everything [on the hardware] means it is easier to set up,” Piscitello said. “You don’t have to send teams of consultants in.”

Google plans to continue to broaden support for content types and enterprise information, he added.

Other new Search Appliance customers include University of Florida, National Semiconductor, Canadian Broadcasting, and Sur La Table.

Sur La Table opted for the Google Search Appliance after considering several software-based search offerings.

The kitchenware retailer, based in Seattle, wanted to avoid a services-laden software approach involving expensive customization and services, according to Jonathan Grant, Web developer.

“I don’t want a major struggle to tweak and configure the product. It is nice for us to be able slide something into the rack; it takes 15 minutes to get the box configured and running,” Grant said.

The appliance approach is not something that has been seen in the enterprise software space, according to Matthew Berk, analyst for site technologies and operations at Jupiter Media Metrix Inc., in New York. Typically, appliances have provided utilities deeper down in the stack, such as load balancing and SSL (Secure Socket Layer) acceleration, he said.

“The trick about an appliance is the benefit and possible disadvantage are the same — that it is a black box. You don’t have to worry about setting it up, configuring, or integrating it,” Berk said.

However, he added, IT managers typically don’t react well to the idea of yet another box to sit in the rack, or have concerns about control or security.