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Google Talks Enterprise Search, Bashes Microsoft

NEW YORK -- Google might be the undisputed leader in Web search, but its role in enterprise search is far less certain. But that's not stopping the company from developing a vision for search in the enterprise that's just as far-reaching as its role in the consumer market.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) sees it ultimately touching business customers of all sizes through multiple product lines, from appliances to cloud-based applications.

That's according to Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for Google enterprise search, who spoke here today at the Enterprise Search Summit in New York.

Mangtani said that Google's approach to search is one of continuous innovation, while contrasting his company's strategy with that of Microsoft -- though he declined to mention his competitor by name.

"One way of doing enterprise search would be to start something in 2001 that didn't work. You could then do a complete overhaul in 2003, which also didn't work. In 2007, you could launch a rip-and-replace system and then ... you could acquire a large, random, non-integrated system."

"I'm not going to name any specific company," he quipped.

Microsoft spokespeople later declined to comment.

The tough talk comes as Google executives have admitted that their dominance of consumer search will not guarantee the company the lead in enterprise search.

Mangtani nevertheless contrasted the record of the "unnamed company" with what he said was Google's record of continuous innovation.

"I cannot fit everything we've done since 2001 on one slide, so I am going to show you what we've done in the last 12 to 18 months," he said. Innovations he listed included enhanced indexing for Google Site Search (GSS) and Advanced Search.

Mangtani said that Google Labs, the company's public testing area for new or experimental features, allows the company to release new improvements without breaking the current offering -- as it did last month with enhancements to Google's image and news search.

As a result, Mangtani said he sees Google's approach to search like a Nintendo Wii, to which you can add new games for new functionality. "When you add new games, you don't have to change the console," he said.

The same model applies to Google's consumer Web business. "It's not much different from 1998 when Larry and Sergei started out, but we have added functionality," he said. Now, when you search for movies, maps, stock market data, or weather, the results are powered by such apps as Google Finance and Google Maps. "We have added more functions but the site is still simple to use," Mangtani said.

Mangtani said Google can do the same with enterprise search, pulling data from other Google applications and also from third-party applications like Salesforce.com.

If the enterprise search application also has information about the role of the search user, it can deliver the right information, taking into account what documents they have access to and also delivering data from the applications they use, he said. A salesperson would have access to Salesforce.com and an engineer would have access to design documents, for instance.

Mangtani said that Google can leverage some of the features of consumer search to improve enterprise search. For example, autocomplete can help employees spell each others' names correctly.

He also said that the app must leverage the expertise of the company's employees. For instance, enterprise search could enable individual users to submit links to key documents. Those links could show up in response to search queries, appearing in the same high-profile positions where Google's consumer search engine displays sponsored listings.

For example, employees might be looking for the employee manual. A member of the HR department could post the link to the manual, and Google would display their link at the top of a search results page.

Meanwhile, a software engineer might be looking for the specifications of a specific product currently in development. That product's team leader could post the right place to find the specifications and those searching for it would see the team leader's link. The search results would also indicate who posted the link.

Search often an afterthought

But Mangtani said that enterprise search is not delivering to its potential. "All too often, search is an afterthought," he said, adding that most systems are built in silos and don't communicate with each other, complicating efforts at locating data.

"Often, when I ask a company whether they have a single sign-on system, they say, 'Yes -- we have five of them,'" he said.

As a result, Google recognizes that its enterprise search product must work with a wide variety of software products, Mangtani said. The application comes with built-in connectors for EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet, Microsoft SharePoint, and Open Text LiveLink. Additional connectors are available from third parties, and companies can build custom connectors, too.

Consolidation isn't important only for businesses' data. Mangtani said that a traditional enterprise search infrastructure involves high-end storage supporting a disaster recovery system and is linked to a patching engine and a volume-licensing server. But he said Google could deliver the same sort of architecture in a single one of its yellow search appliances.