Vivísimo Velocity races ahead of the search pack

Souped-up Version 5 combines high speed with killer control

Choosing an enterprise search product is often fraught with compromise. If you, say, pick something with a simple search interface to appease users, administrators will likely be restricted in indexing databases or customizing results. From the start, Vivísimo's Velocity hasn’t asked organizations to make such concessions. Its search engine indexes content as is, so you don’t have to preprocess or reformat documents. The content integrator allows users to perform simultaneous searches through diverse sources — internal documents, intranets, Web, or syndicated news feeds. Last, the clustering engine organizes all these search results into categories intelligently made from words and phrases in the results, not some arbitrary popularity ranking.

Still, Version 5 has something new for both end-users and system managers, making it an even stronger search solution for Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies. To improve the user experience, Vivísimo added role-based search so that enterprises can target results, for example, to employees in sales or to human resources.

Yet Velocity 5’s biggest changes are in the less visible underlying technology and administration. Topping the list are connectors for databases, Microsoft SharePoint portals, and EMC Documentum Docbases. Because these sources usually require authentication, Vivísimo Velocity 5 easily connects to LDAP or Active Directory servers and restricts viewing documents (or content sections) based on a user’s rights. Moreover, administration is more straightforward compared with Version 4.5.

Gentlemen, start your engine

In approximately 30 minutes I’d installed Velocity 5 under Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. Vivísimo consolidated some of the management functions and reorganized parts of the Web administration interface, which compressed down to a few hours the process of creating my test scenarios — searching an intranet, external Web sites, two SharePoint portals, and several Microsoft SQL databases. More elaborate customizations required a few days; Vivísimo also offers professional services and commits to completing most complex projects within 90 days.

Crawling and indexing sites or documents is as simple as selecting the type of resource (such as a database) and pointing to the server. The control that IT staff has over content extraction and normalization — without much effort — is significant.

Using a simple form, for example, I adjusted the HTML converter so that the crawler ignored common navigation that appeared on each page but gave more weight to link and tag density. I also boosted the priority of certain pages that I wanted to appear at the top of results. These tweaks, along with Velocity’s own relevance-ranking algorithms (freshness, term proximity, link analysis), generated results that were more accurate than other products I’ve tested.

Similarly, I adjusted XSL templates to change the appearance and behavior of the search interface and results page. Things got even more interesting when I used “formula-based sorting” to retrieve very specific results, a feature that truly improves the search experience. For instance, based on metadata, I created graphical sliders that allow users to quickly search a Web site’s product section and pick servers that employed specific processors. Or, for a real estate site, sliders could allow users to easily select homes in specific price ranges, number of rooms, or land size.

Mashups extraordinaire

Federation is another area where Velocity shows usability and creativity. A few clicks from the administration interface bundled my internal search sources — so a single query contained relevant results from all my indexes. Furthermore, the software’s SOA allows you to just as easily federate searches from more than 60 external sources, such as the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, and the National Library of Medicine — along with results from the popular consumer search engines, such as Google, MSN, Yahoo. It’s pretty easy to adjust the built-in setups — or to create your own — to include most other external sources, such as InfoWorld’s own Verity UltraSeek search.

On the flip side, Velocity returns all its data, including the clustering tree and search results, as an XML feed. This permits you to integrate search into existing applications.

Velocity’s search engine breaks tradition because it supports various relationships — one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to-many — between result documents and the original source. With most products, each search result corresponds to a single URL. But Velocity can take a single PDF document that discusses several ideas and break it into separate results.

Click for larger view.

Conversely, the system will combine several URLs that cover a common thought into a single result — a virtual document — without any special document preprocessing. Even more significant is that Version 5 supports security at each of these content-block levels within a virtual document. That is, Vivísimo could create a virtual document about a product your enterprise produces — containing marketing literature, white paper information, and pricing. But because the pricing part is sensitive, that piece shows only in results presented to authorized managers.

Vivísimo didn’t fool with its successful clustering interface in this version, but I discovered a few improvements. Search results can be saved and exported as plain text, HTML, or RIS citations — used by products such as EndNote, ProCite, or Reference Manager. This helps users revisit searches and collaborate by sharing results. Additionally, results now include a preview button, which allows you to examine a Web page or document before opening it.

Vivísimo Velcoity 5 delivers what other search products generally lack: a pleasant experience, characteristic of consumer search, that’s supported by enterprise security and customization options. The system federates searches of structured and unstructured content, which are organized into clusters. Therefore, this retrieval platform is appropriate for any organization needing to understand large — and disparate — information repositories. And with the pressure on IT projects to deliver results, Velocity can be deployed rapidly.

Although enterprise search products such as exalead and Siderean continue to get better, Velocity edges ahead with its collection of excellent functionality and administration tools.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Performance (20.0%)
Integration (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Ease of use (20.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Vivísimo Velocity 5 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.9

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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