Courting the EnterpriseBy David F. Carr Print
Can Google move beyond its ad business?
While there is no doubt about the power Google.com commands among advertisers and Webmasters, Google the enterprise vendor is another thing entirely.
Since 99% of Google's $6 billion in revenue continues to come from advertising, the Google Enterprise division represents a tiny part of the overall business. This is the group that wants to sell you a little bit of Google in a box—the Search Appliance product line—that embeds a variation of the Google.com search engine software that powers Google.com in a yellow server box or blue blade server that enterprise customers can plug into their own data centers.
The appliance product line includes the entry-level google mini, which starts at $1,995 for a model capable of indexing 100,000 documents. It is often used to provide the search capability for public Web sites, although it is also used internally by small enterprises or departments of larger ones. Beyond that level, the Search Appliance line includes the Google Appliance GB-1001, which can handle up to a million documents; and the GB-5005 and GB-8008, which, when delivered in the form of multiple servers in a rack and working together as a Google File System cluster, can handle many millions of documents. "It really is like a little Google data center in a box," says Matt Glotzbach, head of products for Google Enterprise.
Because the technology is delivered in the form of an appliance, customers aren't supposed to crack open the case and tinker with the technology inside, and they aren't provided with root access to the server operating environment.
Instead, Google provides a set of Web-based administration screens, as well as application programming interfaces for modifying the appliance's behavior. The most significant development on that front is the introduction of the onebox application programming interface, which allows data drawn from other systems that otherwise wouldn't be indexed by the search appliance to be displayed at the top of the search results.
The enterprise version of OneBox is modeled after the feature of Google's public Web site that inserts links to data from weather reports, phone listings or maps into search results when the search engine recognizes a pattern associated with an address, a city name or a phone number in the keywords entered by the user. Similarly, the appliance can be programmed to recognize patterns associated with purchase order numbers or common business queries, and insert links to related data. For example, a search for quarterly sales data could go beyond searching intranet Web content and pop up a link to a more structured data source, such as a Cognos financial analysis application.
Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of the Google Enterprise business unit, says Google has been beefing up its capabilities to address enterprise requirements, making the appliances easier to install, use and manage.
However, google still needs to do a better job of addressing enterprise requirements, particularly in terms of support, according to Gartner's Whit Andrews, an authority on the evolution of search technology. "It has taken Google a while to recognize that it needs to do business with the enterprise in a different way from how it does business with the advertiser," he says.
Enterprises that have bought the appliances often give positive reports on the value Google delivers for the money and on the ease of setup and administration, Andrews says. But support is another story, according to Andrews, who has talked to customers who say Google's response to problems with the appliances is too often along the lines of, "Yeah, we know about that, we'll get back to you."
Google says it is investing in improved support. Andrews agrees that the support is better, but says it's still not enough.
However, Google can point to many happy customers. Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, an international law firm based in Boston, got the Google Mini it purchased up and running in about an hour, says Keith Schultz, who manages the firm's Web sites. "We've really had no problems with it at all," Schultz says.
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