Even as Google cements its dominance in the global search portal market, the company continues to aggressively pursue the intranet and extranet markets with its Google Appliance. On September 30 the company will announce enhanced features, improved performance, and a new model of the Google Appliance. Despite the sluggish economy, John Piscitello, product manager for the Appliance, says, "The search segment is doing OK in a tough economic environment," and claims the company will seek leadership in a market it estimates will grow to over $600 million in 2003.
One of the enhancements will allow customers to set up high-speed crawling of a subset of their Web space, so that, for instance, internal corporate newsletters or internal "breaking news" servers will be indexed at a high frequency—perhaps even hourly. Hardly noticed in the original Google Appliance announcement last February was a "Keymatch" feature that allows customers to deliver internal premium "advertisements" based on the searches entered by internal users. The rapid-news feature combined with the Keymatch facility allows intranet managers to drive users to editorially chosen and recent content, complementing the spider's ability to locate popular internal pages.
The Google Appliance is now able to crawl and index secure content as well. Search administrators can define which secure servers are to be accessed and indexed. They can also control whether secure content appears in the hit list of a user who has not yet been authenticated for a given server. Both basic ID/PW authentication and the Windows NTLM model are supported. Google did not say whether other authentication schemes, such as Kerberos, would be supported in the future.
Piscitello says that as the Appliance is used by more customers, the company is learning which features provide great value—with some surprises. For example, one company wanted the global Google's "family filtering" feature even for content within its intranet. Other customers find Google's spelling correction highly useful, especially since suggested corrections are only made if a link to a live URL can be achieved.
The new Appliance model, the GB-5005, is intended to handle up to 3 million documents and to field up to 150 queries per minute. The original products, the GB-1001 and GB-8008, serve departmental and very large deployments, respectively.
Google emphasizes the turnkey aspect of the Appliance. For instance, its larger models operate as clustered computers, which would require expertise to set up and administer if a company does its own hardware acquisition and administration. Google says the clustered Appliance models require zero additional administrative effort.
For large organizations, however, the Google functionality may be a stronger selling point than any administration efficiencies. Large enterprises are, after all, quite comfortable administering complex server farms. Now that Google is the majority global search portal, it follows that a majority of enterprise users are familiar with the tool and expect the kind of relevancy it delivers.
I spoke with a recent convert to the Google Appliance. Candy Irven manages Access Indiana, a statewide e-government portal. In August, Access Indiana replaced an existing search engine with the Google Appliance. "With the old engine, if the user typed in ‘State Fair' they wouldn't get the home page for the State Fair. Now they do. The old engine tended to find obscure PDF pages instead of home pages; Google puts the right page at the top of the hit list."
Response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Internal customers noticed the vastly improved hit list, and e-mail from statewide users is positive. Irven says she knows that citizens who were getting less than optimal results are now seeing pages they ought to be driven to. Access Indiana is not yet using the Keymatch facility, but Irven looks forward to using that feature as well as the rapid crawling of news.
Other Appliance customers cited by Google include the World Bank, with some 445 servers indexed worldwide; New York University; Cisco; PBS; and the CBC.