IBM, Yahoo launch free enterprise search tool

IBM Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have developed a free, entry-level, enterprise search application that at least one analyst believes will seriously disrupt the low-end segment of this market where Google Inc. has been selling many of its Mini search devices.

IBM and Yahoo plan to release the server-side application on Wednesday as a free download aimed at companies that haven’t tried out enterprise search due to cost and complexity concerns.

The software, called IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition, has been designed to be simple to install and use, and can index up to 500,000 documents from over 200 file types, like Adobe Systems Inc.’s PDF and Microsoft Corp.’s Word and Excel.

With that indexing capacity, IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition poses a significant threat to the Google Mini, an analyst said. The Mini is a hardware device loaded with Google search software that starts at US$1,995 for 50,000 documents and tops out at 300,000 documents in its $8,995 edition.

“Google will have to react in some way to this product, to differentiate the Mini from a free competitor with more indexing capacity,” said Matt Brown, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst.

IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition isn’t comparable to more powerful mid-tier products like the Google Search Appliance, nor to high-end systems from companies like Fast Search & Transfer ASA and Autonomy Corp., Brown said. These mid-tier and high-end products have significantly more features, like the ability to index data from many more sources, like business applications.

However, this IBM/Yahoo product is precisely what Eric Brierley had been looking for. Brierley, chief technology officer of Decision Critical Inc., had researched tools like the Google Mini because he wanted to do a full-text indexing of the education and training materials the company stores in its databases and serves up to its health care clients.

However, he hadn’t found an option that fit his budget, was simple to use and could handle the task until he beta-tested the IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition earlier this month. “We’re very pleased with it not only because it’s free, but also because the integration process [with our Web application] was painless and the performance was exceptional,” said Brierley.

Decision Critical has the tool on a staging server while it runs final tests and finishes customization work, but plans to deploy it soon to its 400 clients and their 300,000 end users. It will be installed on an existing server box.

IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition also features an integrated Internet search tab that lets users query Yahoo’s Web search engine.

End users interact with the IBM/Yahoo product via a browser-based interface that has the look and feel of the Yahoo search engine, which is familiar to many people. Two other user interface options exist.

The product’s search box can be embedded in an existing Web page, and the IT department can build its own custom interface via an application programming interface (API).

The product now becomes the entry-level option in IBM’s enterprise search line, which features the more sophisticated and fee-based OmniFind Enterprise Edition, whose functionality can be extended with OmniFind Discovery Edition.

The upgrade path to the Enterprise Edition is far from seamless right now, requiring a re-crawling of the documents to rebuild the index, but IBM plans to make the process smoother in the future, said Marc Andrews [cq], IBM’s program director of information management strategies.

IBM also offers customers the option of purchasing guaranteed phone technical support for $2,000 per server per year, he said.

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