Google’s consumer initiatives have been getting a great deal of play lately - for example, mapping and the new customizable portal, er, start page. In the long run, Google’s efforts aimed at the enterprise may be more interesting - and have more impact on the fate of Google the company than these consumer moves.
Google as a business and institution is now like a shark: it must proceed forward or die. There’s too much critical mass created by the mile-high stock price and all the way-smart hirees at Google for things to just bumble along. This is the line of thought that inevitably leads to an assault on that IT Everest - the enterprise. You can see the process at work in a long, slow fashion at Microsoft. From its hobby operating system roots, the company is now a beaurocratic octopus engaged with the IT enterprise, pushing .Net and Longorn, having forsaken its Mom and Pop developer roots.
In a recent eWeek article, Matt Glotzbach, Google’s Enterprise product manager describes the new, and free, Google Enterprise Desktop Search for the Enterprise as a unified way to search information sources including email, and instant messaging. But this product lacks the ability to index network drives, and therefore is supposedly not competitive with Google’s enterprise search appliances.
These applicances range from the Google Mini, which sells for $3,000 to the Google Search Appliance, which is a $30,000 black box. (Here’s some recent coverage in Information Week.) The key indexing logic in these appliances is a closely guarded secret, hence my use of the term “black box.”
True, the Google enterprise appliances seem easy to deploy. In some cases, if companies want an easy way to enable search of generic kinds of documents - either for customers or employees - they may just slap in one of the Google widgets.
But wearing my enterprise consultant hat, I know there’s some pretty tough competition in enterprise information analysis and data retrieval software from companies like Autonomy, IBM, Microsoft, and Verity. Specialized information areas - for example, medical and legal, have their own highly technical semantic requirements for retrieval, and the Google appliances can’t even begin to touch them. So these Google enterprise appliances are actually kind of mid-market: they don’t touch the functionality of the higher-end (and more expensive) solutions, and they don’t understand the semantic rules and requirements of areas requiring subject-matter expertise. Compared to systems that do take a stab at solving these problems, they are cheap to buy and easy to deploy. But a lot more expensive than the free Enterprise Desktop Search product that I described at the beginning of this piece.
How much market is there in the enterprise for this mid-ground? I’m guessing not enough to support the shark in its forward motion. To achieve critical mass in enterprise search, Google will have to develop expertise, tools, and techniques to master the syntax and semantics of specific domains - and do it better than anyone else.