Google's enterprise search finally reaches UK

Two years after launching the product in the US, with limited success, Google is offering its Search Appliance to UK companies

Google officially launched its standalone enterprise search appliance in the UK and Europe on Wednesday, claiming the product has matured after two years of field testing by US customers.

The device is aimed squarely at businesses and enables companies to search any document based on HTTP and HTTPS protocols that resides on an internal intranet. It can also add search functionality to a corporate web presence.

The Search Appliance is a piece of hardware that comes with Google's search software pre-installed. Google claims it is similar to the thousands of Linux-based servers the company uses to run its main web search business.

The decision to offer businesses a hardware and software combination, rather than a CD which companies could load onto any platform, was taken for reliability reasons according to Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's Enterprise division.

"We wanted to make sure we delivered the best end user experience we could. When you give people CDs it is always fraught with risk and security issues. We thought the best way is to deliver a complete hardware and software solution," he said.

The Search Appliance is available in three models; the single departmental level GB-1001, the five-way GB-5005 for high priority services and the eight-way GB-8008 for supporting global business units.

Pricing starts at around £19, 000 for the GB-1001 which includes a two year licence and scales up to around 150,000 documents. Exact pricing for the eight-way version was not available but the units ship for around $660,000 in the US.

Girouard claimed the company waited two years before launching the product in the UK and Europe because it wanted to ensure the product was mature before unleashing it on the rest of the world.

There is still a big question mark on whether Google's consumer success will translate to the corporate market but Girouard said that the company sees a real opportunity for better business search technology which he claims is lagging behind that for the wider consumer Internet.

"If search doesn't work then it’s one of the first exit points from your web site," he said.

Google dominates Web search, but it has struggled to transplant its success seamlessly to the business of simplifying document searches for corporations. Significantly, some of the techniques that have made the company a household name for serving up fast and relevant Web results don't work in the vastly different arena of corporate intranets.

For example, the company's PageRank system, licensed exclusively from Stanford University, looks at the link structures of pages on the Web as a hint to their relevance. Pages that have lots of other pages pointing links at them are likely to be more relevant than others that have fewer links. PageRank is widely considered the key to Google's early success, although it has become less important recently due to unceasing attacks from link "spammers" who hope to boost their rankings by exploiting its quirks.

Since corporate networks do not generally have rich link structures, PageRank is not an efficient way to rate the relevance of documents there, Girouard admitted. Instead, the company relies on some 100 supplementary algorithms, including several that it has optimised for enterprise network structures.

Two years after Google jumped into the market, enterprise search remains an open field with a number of competitors, including Verity, Fast Search & Transfer, Copernic and IBM.

In 2003, Google's enterprise search division accounted for $48m, less than 5 percent of the company's sales, according to a securities filing. That is well behind long-time market player Verity, which racked up $121m in sales last year.

CNET News.com's Evan Hansen contributed to this report.