Google unveils

Search engine company Google Inc. has released its Google Search Appliance, a device designed to make it easier for corporate customers to find information on their intranets or Web sites.

In an announcement Feb. 12, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said the devices will include Intel-based server hardware running Google search software atop Linux.

John Piscitello, Google’s product manager, called the devices “a natural extension for us to create more ways for people to access information.”

In the past, Google has offered custom “hosted site search” capabilities to corporate users under an application service provider model, Piscitello said. But customers said they wanted more options, according to Piscitello, including search capabilities behind their corporate firewalls, which led to the development of the new units.

Two versions of the appliances are available: the smaller GB-1001 for departments and medium-size companies, with storage up to 150,000 documents; and the expanded GB-8008 for large corporations with millions of documents. The GB-1001 starts at US$20,000 and includes two years of support and updates, while the GB-8008 starts at US$250,000.

One large customer, National Semiconductor Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., has bought the new search devices, and several dozen other companies are using the devices on an evaluation basis, Piscitello said.

Avi Rappoport, an analyst at Search Tools Consulting in Berkeley, Calif., said that while several other companies have been marketing similar search hardware or software, Google, which was founded in 1998, is a major beneficiary of having a good reputation in a tough market.

“I think that some companies will like it, because they just buy it and plug it in,” Rappoport said. Others will be more leery because the proprietary nature of the box means they may not have full control, she said.

Competitors in the marketplace with corporate software search products include Fast Search & Transfer ASA in Oslo, Norway; AltaVista Co. in Palo Alto, Calif.; Inktomi Corp. in Foster City, Calif.; and Yahoo Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Google’s appliance approach, though, is unique and gives the company good odds for success, Rappoport said.

“They have a lot of neat features when it comes to configuring” the devices, including indexing choices, large compatibility with file formats and some foreign language support, she said. “They have a chance because they’ve earned the chance to be considered based on the quality of their public Web [search] site,” Rappoport said.

Such devices could eventually become important for companies, she said, because they allow easier organization of information databases that are constantly growing in size and complexity. “It’s really important to have a search engine that can help people find what they’re looking for,” Rappoport said. “It’s worth investing in.”

Sue Feldman, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the new devices give customers who lack search technology experience a plug-in way to add the complex feature.

“Most enterprises really have no business dabbling in it, because it’s not their business and it’s wasting a lot of their time,” Feldman said.

For content management system vendors, the new Google devices could help them add search capabilities where they are rarely seen today, she said. “If they can drop in a search appliance that’s scalable, that’s a name brand, it will give them a leg up on sales.”

Laura Ramos, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said the device approach is good for Google because it means the company can limit compatibility problems and other technical issues by keeping the hardware constant, rather than multiplying potential problems by giving users the ability to run software on any kind of hardware.

Still to be seen, she said, is how Google will react to having to build, package and ship products for the first time, after being solely a software company.

“I think it’s a very clever, interesting approach to what they’re trying to do,” Ramos said. “I think it’s going to be something certainly to watch.”