RealTime IT News

Enterprise Search, The Next Big Battleground?

SAN FRANCISCO – To hear Google tell it, the person doing a search on a home PC is "the same guy" who uses search in the enterprise. Microsoft says that may be true, but that doesn't mean they have the same needs.

In a panel discussion here at the Gilbane content management conference, officials from Google and Microsoft had a cordial debate over how the two companies address the enterprise search market. Jared Spataro, group product manager for enterprise search at Microsoft, said there were three main areas of search: commodity, high end specialized services and mid-market "true enterprise" services. He said Microsoft plays in and continues to invest in all three areas.

Spataro acknowledged the broad reach of Google  as a consumer brand and said the search giant's ambition to organize all the world's information was "a fantastic goal."

However, he then went on to say that Microsoft  thinks organization is just a starting point. "We're focused on what people are going to do with that information," said Spataro. He compared Google's approach to applying search as a solution to using nails to solve every problem because the only tool you have is a hammer.

Nitin Mangtani, a lead product manager for Google Search Appliance, was quick to respond. "We understand enterprise search is different," said Mangtani. He noted that most of the people working in his group previously worked at enterprise software companies. Mangtani said Google has over 7,000 customers (including such blue chips as Boeing, Honeywell and Intel) for its Google Mini Search Appliance, a $1,995 hardware software combination.

For enterprise customers, Mangtani stressed Google's ability to handle both structured and unstructured information.

"Whether the information is in an Oracle database, a wiki or an SAP server, we give you one unified search interface to all your information," said Mangtani. "We're a neutral vendor and we build a security structure …. that gives you fine grain control. If a user doesn't have access, we don’t even show the link because we think that's a violation." He said some competitive products will allow unauthorized users to see a link.

Both Oracle and SAP offer their own solutions for enterprise customers. SAP plans to release an as yet unnamed enterprise search service for its customers later this year.

One distinctive aspect of what SAP has planned is that the service ties into a user's security and profile settings and provides different results depending on the user. For example, a search on a manager's name will show results that include the people he reports to and those that report to him with quick access to items such as performance reviews.

"There will always be a market for niche applications," Mangtani told internetnews.com in an interview after his session.

Spataro said enterprise IT buyers will become more interested in search "but not as a standalone, but as part of a whole infrastructure." Noting Microsoft has over 400 million users of its Office products and more for Windows, Spataro said Microsoft can appeal to those customers in a different way than Google with it's well-known Internet brand.

Mangtani agreed Google has a different approach. "We can try out a product offering to millions of users and fine tune it for the enterprise," he said.

Google has offered numerous free beta versions of various online applications, including Gmail and Docs & Spreadsheets.

Speakers from a previous session remained on stage during the Microsoft, Google discussion and occasionally chimed in a comment. Rich Buchheim, Oracle's senior director, enterprise content management strategy, said competitive products focus on managing the chaos of increasing large amounts of data. But he said at Oracle, "We do that and also help eliminate the chaos over time by categorizing and securing information."