While computer users have enjoyed the availability of free tools to search desktop PC content (such as those from Copernic Technologies and X1 Technologies), they have not had this benefit for searching enterprise resources. The implementation of enterprise search tools has traditionally taken a chunk of money, time, and considerable effort. Now, the seemingly odd partnership of the venerable IBM and the consumer Web search service Yahoo! is making an entry-level enterprise search offering available for free download (http://omnifind.ibm.yahoo.com). The two companies have introduced IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition, which supports up to 500,000 documents per server, more than 200 file types, and documents in more than 30 languages. The companies say the product has just a three-click installation process and should take customers only minutes to go from download to actual use. The product is aimed at companies that haven't yet tried out enterprise search tools due to concerns about cost and complexity. It lets corporate users search content inside the enterprise and on the Internet with a single interface—and since it's the Yahoo! interface, it's familiar and easy to use. And did I mention that it's free?
Except for the user interface and the link to Yahoo! Search, most of the technology in IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition comes from IBM. Interestingly, it uses an open source core called Lucene (http://lucene.apache.org) for its indexing and searching. This is supplemented with an enhanced Web crawler from IBM OmniFind Enterprise Edition, IBM's LanguageWare text analytics software, and the Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA). IBM also built a wizard-based graphical administration tool to control it.
According to Mark Andrews, program director of information management strategy at IBM, the company aimed to make the technology transparent to users and offer a product that is usable by even nontechnical folks. The goal was to provide easy-to-deploy and easy-to-use search software right out of the box. He said there were more than 2,500 downloads of the product within the first 24 hours of its launch. Customers can opt to purchase phone support from IBM for $1,999 per server, per year.
IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition offers features such as automatic spell correction, support for synonyms and shortcuts, wild-card support to substitute for unknown characters, query reporting, and graphical user interface customization. It is fully integrated with Yahoo! Search, providing one-click access to send queries to Yahoo! Web, image, video, audio, directory, local, and news search services.
Susan Feldman, research vice president of content technologies at IDC, pointed out that the relevance ranking is adjustable. "It does not rely on link analysis, which often fails inside the enterprise. Instead it uses OmniFind relevance ranking algorithms."
IBM obviously hopes that when organizations start to find information in their networks, they will want to dig in further and search corporate databases and data management systems—accomplished through the advanced search tools that IBM sells. OmniFind Enterprise Edition provides more advanced features and capabilities, while OmniFind Discovery Edition includes natural-language queries, navigation, etc. And IBM is in the business of selling hardware, so as organizations max out existing server capabilities, IBM would be happy to oblige.
If you're curious about downloading and trying it, be sure to read the technical requirements carefully (http://omnifind.ibm.yahoo.net/download/tech-reqs.php). The fine print is pretty specific in pointing out that this is not a desktop search product for a single PC. It's designed for searching internal Web sites, local and remote file systems, and the public Web. "IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition is an enterprise search product, not a desktop search product. As a result, it is recommended that you do not run the search engine for a production environment on typical notebook or desktop computers. Crawling and indexing Web sites and file directories can use up to 100 percent of your processor."
An FAQ in the Forum further explains: "IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition is optimized for use as an enterprise search server. It expects to be deployed on server class hardware and it expects to be able to make complete use of the system's resources to optimize its crawl rate and deliver very quick responses on many simultaneous queries from numerous users."
Yahoo! also still offers Yahoo! Desktop Search, a free, downloadable search application that enables users to find files, e-mails, attachments, instant messages, and contacts (http://desktop.yahoo.com). Yahoo! partnered with X1 Technologies to create Yahoo! Desktop Search. In addition, X1 bundles the Yahoo! Toolbar and Yahoo! Web Search with the free version of the X1 Enterprise Client.
It's clear that the new IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition is meant to take a swipe at Google. The indexing capacity of the free IBM-Yahoo! tool matches that of the Google Search Appliance, a hardware/software combo that starts at $30,000. Several levels of the Google Mini are available for a lower cost—the base Mini searches up to 50,000 documents for $1,995 (which includes hardware, software, and a year of support). For those into a plug-and-play solution, Google could be more attractive (http://www.google.com/enterprise). For enterprises that want to integrate search within existing systems, the IBM-Yahoo! tool could be compelling.
For Eric Brierley, CTO of Austin, Texas-based Decision Critical, the IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition was indeed compelling since his company didn't want a hardware solution. He had looked at the Google Mini and at other options but hadn't found a good solution that fit his budget and would integrate with the company's existing systems. The company needed to index a wide diversity of educational course content and make it available and searchable online to some 400 medical facilities with 300,000 end users. He said that the installation was simple, the indexing was fast, and the customization only took another 4-5 hours. "It's not just that it was cheap (free), but that it was easy to adapt to our existing applications," he commented.
Consultant David Tebbutt reported on the IWR Blog that he had tested IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition for indexing the blog, a Web site, and his hard drive. While he said that it "took a few hours to index around 35,000 documents and build an index of almost 2.5 gigabytes," he called the setup "dead easy" and the searching "snappy."
Some industry analysts think this new free offering will prove to be disruptive in the enterprise search space. Mary Hayes Weier, writing in InformationWeek, predicted that it will spark a price and feature war in enterprise search. "Expect a market shake-up," she said.
Forrester Research analyst Matt Brown stressed that this gives enterprises a real alternative to Google, and, he said, it's "easier to acquire, install and use than just about anything else on the market right now." He continued: "For the past four years information and knowledge management professionals have been bludgeoned by their business stakeholders demanding ‘just give me Google' for search. To date they've had few alternatives to consider—other than high-priced products from established vendors. … Now, information and knowledge management professionals will be hard-pressed not to at least consider and try the IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition product."
Search expert Stephen Arnold said that he had expected a move like this from Yahoo!, given the number of former IBM engineers now working at Yahoo!. He feels that the adoption of the new entry-level product will prove to be good for IBM, both when companies find they need to upgrade their hardware and as they opt to upgrade to IBM's advanced search tools. And, said Arnold, "Yahoo! has been buzz-deprived and this gets it good buzz." He said that it will take the focus off Yahoo!'s recent management problems and market struggles. As for impacting Google, he said: "It depends. We will have to wait and see."
Arnold ran some tests and said the setup was easy compared to many search engines. Indexing speed was 4,000-plus documents per hour. On his test queries, behavior was "acceptable." He said that the product offers a "slick interface and a useful string matching system," but that it wasn't clear if the system could scale without "stepping up" both the hardware and to a full commercial version of OmniFind.
Other enterprise search vendors don't seem too rattled by the news. In fact, some think it just raises awareness. A spokesperson from ISYS Search Software commented: "Clearly, IBM has done more than any of the other 800-lb. software incumbents to push enterprise search forward. The ‘a rising tide lifts all boats' effect is once again at play, so this news is good news for most vendors in the space."
Al Wasserberger, CEO of Intellext, Inc., which provides the free Watson search software, was even more positive, calling the new product "a boon for businesses" and a "strong indicator of the commoditization of enterprise search." He stressed that businesses and users are placing value on the applications, not on the search engine. "The trend now is building applications that leverage the information accessibility afforded by enterprise search engines."
Larry Dignan commented in the ZDNet blog (http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=4136): "In the end, IBM and Yahoo may put some serious pressure on Google's pricing depending on how much you value plug and play. But the impact from the IBM and Google enterprise search effort isn't as clear as it seems on first glance. Stay tuned, this could get interesting."
Interesting, yes, and definitely not boring, according to Feldman. She wrote in an IDC advisory: "The search market is contentious, and it will only become more so, since Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft have made serious forays into it with new products this year. OmniFind Yahoo! Edition is positioned squarely against Google's search appliance (GSA). But we expect that it may rock the lower end of the search software market as well. Vendors like ZyLAB, Coveo, Vivisimo Ultraseek (from Autonomy), dtSearch, ISYS, or X1 will need to prove their worth against this new, free contender by emphasizing their own advanced enterprise features such as multilevel or document-level security, access to additional information sources, interface design, business intelligence, or reporting features."