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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Google Inc has developed what it calls "Google in a box", a search appliance designed to reduce the cost and complexity of behind-the-firewall searches at large enterprises.

With the likes of Inktomi Corp and AltaVista Co squarely in its sights, the company has already sold the product to National Semiconductor Corp and "a major aerospace company" according to the firm.

The company, which is widely recognized as the best branded search engine on the web, is substantially undercutting its rivals. Inktomi, for example, starts pricing at $2,995 for a 3,000-document index (not including the price of hardware or implementation), whereas a Google appliance costs $20,000 for a 150,000-document index. Typical implementations run into the millions of documents, a spokesperson said.

The trade-off is between price and ease of use on the one hand, and functionality on the other. Implementing Google's software, designed for the web, limits its effectiveness, rivals claim. Google agrees that the first version of the appliance is not as functional as some rivals' offerings, but says future upgrades will add features.

Google director of corporate communications David Krane said the appliance is being targeted at "companies with large amounts of unstructured data behind the firewall... anything that can be viewed with a web browser." He added that beta customers have been able to get a box up and indexing within an hour.

"We feel that our software is at that level of ease-of-use," said Michael Kopp, marketing director of enterprise search at Inktomi. He pointed out that Google's search engine is still very web-oriented, whereas Inktomi's software can handle documents in databases and content management systems.

"The majority of the content on the inside of an enterprise is structured," Kopp said. He added that he does not think that Google's trademark link analysis algorithms would work very well inside an enterprise, where popularity may not signify importance. But Google's Krane counters that link analysis "is just one of 100-plus factors" the software takes into consideration when creating an index.

Customization seems to be one area where Google will lag behind its rivals. "The customer does not get to fine tune [the algorithms]," Krane said. Other search engine providers allow customers to give priority to certain relevance-determining factors. Krane said that the current version of the appliance supports Lotus Notes database files, and that future versions will support other structured data applications.

According to Google, the 1U Linux box can handle 60 queries a minute, and recognizes about 200 file types of up to 2.5MB for HTML or 10MB for other types. The Google Search Appliance is the first known device of its type, and may end up being the only one. Inktomi, for one example, has no plans to go the appliance route.

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