Inside Google Enterprise

In the first part of my interview with Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google Enterprise, we discussed the general parameters of a Google Office suite. In this part of the interview, Girouard talks about Google search and strategic directions for products directed at business customers.

In the first part of my interview with Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google Enterprise, we discussed the general parameters of a Google Office suite. In this part of the interview, Girouard talks about Google search and strategic directions for products directed at business customers. For Google, search is the dominant gene, and like others purusing the Holy Grail of search, the lofty goal is to create a search engine that brings back one result, precisely what the user needed.  
 
Google is having some success with enterprise search, with more than 4,000 active customers and about 5,000 to 6,000 appliances installed, according to Girouard. Revenues in 2005 were on the order of 1 percent of Google’s $6,138,560 take, he said. “My goal is to keep us growing at the same pace as the greater Google. I worry little about our percent of revenue. I want to make sure have lots of customers.” Prices range from $2,000 to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the configuration.

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The software from the smallest to the largest box uses the same code base as what’s in Google’s data center, Girouard said. Google’s OneBox for Enterprise search appliance includes real-time access to data from Cisco, Cognos, NetSuite, Oracle, Salesforce.com and SAS and other applications. While Google doesn’t intend to field a professional services organization, the company is working with about 80 partners, training them on the technology and working with joint customers, Girouard said.  

As with the emerging Web office space, Google's enterprise search lives by the company’s core design principles. “We put limits on the screen real estate on OneBox can take, for example. It has to respond in a certain time. Our brand means fast and simple and we are protective of the end user experience," Girouard said.

In addition to fast and simple, Google prides itself on relevance of results. I asked Girouard how he would rate the relevance of Google’s search results on a scale of one to ten. “I would give us about a four, but having said that, there is a lot of work to be done, and I would contend that we are better than anybody else in search quality,” he said.

Relevance in Google’s enterprise search is a derivative of the algorithms that run Google.com, Girouard said. “We look at link structure, but every year link structure is becoming less important. It’s not the dominant factor for how we do relevance on the Web or in the enterprise. It’s our secret sauce.” Needless to say, Girouard wasn’t willing to reveal any of the secret sauce.

Competitors in enterprise search, such as Oracle, say that Google’s technology is too rudimentary. Girouard responded, “If what he means is that we are easy to use I agree. People have confused sophistication with complexity. Most enterprise software has lost the distinction between sophisticated software and what becomes a complex user experience.” It's probably more fair to say that for some use cases, Google's solutions are insufficient compared to the established enterprise search vendors.

I asked Girouard about presenting search results, such as categorizing results by topical areas. “It’s up to customers to decide what is the right interface for users. Our system is extraordinarily flexible in how data is presented,” said. As an example, a simplistic job listing aggregator getthejob.com is powered by Google search and allows search navigation by company, location and area code. Google News clusters content according to topic.

 

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  Google search results set the bar for speed and simplicity

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Exalead, a relatively new search engine, provides related terms and categories for refining searches

But, Girouard indicated that Google is not ready to ready bring categorization—taking a corpus of data and auto-determining the categories and labels—into the mainstream. “We do this quite a bit internally,” he said, “but it’s not at a quality level we want yet.”
   

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Finally, I asked to Girouard for a top ten list of what he views as Google’s enterprise product portfolio.  He didn’t come with ten, but the search products account for four—Google Search Appliance, Mini, Desktop and Toolbar. His group also manages Google Earth Enterprise, which is used by real estate developers, architectrure, engineering, insurance and media companies, as well as homeland security and intelligence agencies working with geospatial data.

Girouard said that Google Maps is a candidate for his list. "There are ways to use maps in certain environments, such as commercial real estate, federal government and oil and gas companies--companies where Earth is their factory," he said.

The recently acquired CAD program, Sketchup, offers the ability to interact with 3D objects in Google Earth, which was the primary reason Google was interested in the program, Girouard said. As reported in part one of the interview, hosted applications such as email, instant messaging, blogger and wikis could take on an enterprise flavor. In addition, Girouard said that there are many features from Google.com that could be applied to enterprise products, such as adding alerts to the search appliance.

Girouard didn't have a solid ten items, but it's not difficult to imagine Google's Enterprise division keeping up or even surpassing the growth rate of the mothership.

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