Google and Thunderstone deliver plug and search to the enterprise
Search appliances serve up admirable results
If you need to overhaul an aging or inadequate intranet or Web search service, search appliances afford a suitable option. There are plenty of software solutions such as Verity Ultraseek, but by the time you install and configure the software on your server, you could have several sites fully indexed with an appliance.
I tested Google Search Appliance GB-1001 Version 4 and Thunderstone Search Appliance Version 5 to see how they fared against each other. I also compared their search results with those of two software solutions, Convera RetrievalWare and the search service bundled with Microsoft SharePoint Portal 2003.
After searching multiple intranet and public corporate sites -- a total of 25,000 pages -- with all four solutions, the appliances clearly won, boasting easier implementation and significantly more relevant results.
Overall, the appliances are similar in many areas. Both install in a few minutes, and search quality was virtually indistinguishable. Thunderstone's user interface is a bit less polished, but it gives you more flexibility in configuring crawls. Significantly, developers can customize the search software for special needs. Plus, you're paying far less than you would for Google's appliance.
On balance, either one would suffice in most situations. I give a slight edge to Google because the system's security is more hardened and its RAID configurations provide enterprise-level fault tolerance. And, if you can afford larger configurations, Google scales up. However, Thunderstone shows it can keep up in the important search-quality area -- and certainly puts pressure on Google to open its own system and provide better value.
Google Search Appliance GB-1001 Version 4
Arguably, Google is synonymous with fast, accurate, simple Web searching -- a reputation that sets high usability expectations for employees when you roll out enterprise search. First introduced in early 2002, the "Google-in-a-box" appliance does a great job transferring the experience of the company's public product behind your firewall. Setup and ongoing administration are minimal. Just as significant, compared with our previous review the latest version adds enterprise-specific functions, such as continuous crawling and unlimited collections, and it supports forms-based SSO (single sign-on).
Google's taken plug and play to the extreme. I merely connected a power cord to the 2U rack appliance, plugged in my laptop to a spare Ethernet port to enter network settings, and was off and running. Logging in to the Admin console from a browser presents a simplified environment for creating collections, managing crawls, customizing the layout of search pages, and testing queries.
Crawling and indexing is unusually simple, with the software automatically performing many complex tasks for you such as figuring out what content to recognize, including metatags. Just enter the starting URLs and a few other basics, such as which types of files to exclude from crawls, and you're in business. I particularly liked the graphs that chart crawl performance.
In general, the appliance includes capabilities similar to those of the public search software, including automatic spelling checker and Keymatch, which allows administrators to highlight the top search result for a given query.