Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You'll Find - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You'll Find

New search appliances claim to be uniquely adapted to meet enterprise needs. We tested eight enterprise search products and analyzed the technology's security and architectural implications. Our take: The math just doesn't add up.

IBM-YaHoo, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP ... why are these big dogs scrapping with specialized vendors like dtSearch, Vivisimo and X1 Technologies for a market Gartner pegged at a measly $370 million in 2006 worldwide revenue?

One word: Mindshare. We've all heard end users ask, "Have you Googled it?" You can't buy that kind of name recognition, and incumbent application vendors want to make darn sure IT groups don't begin to equate enterprise search with those shiny yellow Google appliances.

Moreover, it's clear that profit margins are anorexic mainly because Google and IBM-Yahoo are exerting downward pricing pressure. Not that we're complaining--undercutting competitors is a time-honored, and customer-friendly, tactic. And yet, even at relatively attractive prices, this isn't a fast growing market. Why is that?

After testing search products from dtSearch, Google, IBM, ISYS Search Software, Mondosoft, Thunderstone Software, Vivisimo, X1 in our Green Bay, Wis., Real-World Labs®, we think we know: Current products do not do a good job providing relevant results given large amounts of typical enterprise data. That includes Google's killer PageRank algorithm, which transformed the Web into a truly useful source of information. PageRank simply does not translate well to the enterprise search market. Web search is different from desktop search is different from federated enterprise search, and so far, no one vendor has pulled it all together.

We also found security concerns. An enterprise-search engine goes to work when a user points it at a file share. The software opens every document on the share--even those with sensitive information. Text and metadata from the file are extracted and indexed in a reverse index; most of the products we tested also cache document text or entire documents. We trust you see how that's a problem.

Worth The Price?

Big questions from the CIO: Why do we need this? What do these products really give an enterprise, aside from making it easier for sales folks to pull together proposals? Are they just pricey insurance against inevitable subpoenas? And how does cost stack up against functionality?

In a nutshell, end users are demanding the ability to gather knowledge from all corners of the enterprise, and as more information becomes digitized, being without sophisticated search will hamper productivity.

In addition, while recent changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure didn't in themselves make implementing enterprise search a priority, they certainly jolted many IT groups out of complacency. Companies from Bank of America Securities to Philip Morris have shelled out billions in penalties for failing to provide business records. On a smaller scale, as information stores--databases, CMSs (content-management systems), file and Web servers--overflow with information, employees waste precious time digging for files that a federated-search engine might return in a fraction of a second.

As to the question of how well they work, the eight products we tested have some big customer names, strong staying power ... and not a whole lot of differentiation. You'll find some variation when looking at advanced federated search features that typically involve indexing systems like databases and CMSs, but beware of paying a premium: The biggest bang for your buck is in indexing file and Web servers. The advanced features vendors will try to sell you yield only marginally better results.

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