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Review: Google Mini Comes Up Short

Google aims to shake up the market with its small business and enterprise search appliances but sadly there's nothing radically new since the search giant released them a couple of years ago.

distribution deal with Ingram Micro

Architecturally, the latest versions of its two Linux-based appliances are not offering anything radically new in terms of search innovations since the search giant released them a few years ago.

Now that Google's wares are available to the channel through distribution, the CRN Test Center wanted to put the offering through its paces. Engineers tested Google's Mini search appliance, which is priced at around $2,000 and is intended for the SMB market. It's latest release was launched in 2006. Engineers did not test the Google Search Appliance which starts at $30,000.

The biggest sore spot with the Mini is its $2,000 price tag. Competing vendor dtSearch, a channel-friendly vendor, offers a much better solution. For $999 per server, dtSearch's offers a robust search engine with a comprehensive Win and .Net API. dtSearch's engine can connect to any file system, including Web content, and it is not limited to a page count. Solution providers can build custom interfaces, integrated the engine with any custom application and package a solution on any hardware that can meet and customer requirements. Solution providers can ratchet it up as much as they want. dtSearch also has a dedicated site for third-party developers that provide development services.

In contrast, the Google Mini appliance can consume between 50,000 and 300,000 documents per server. As an example, 1 Terabyte of data is about 30 million documents. If more documents need parsing, companies are forced to upgrade to the Google Search Appliance (GSA), which can start searching at up to 500,000 documents per server and can be clustered to support up to 30 million documents or about 1 Terabyte of storage. Since the GSA can be clustered, companies are not cornered into retiring the Mini. Migrating to the GSA is the logical option.

One thing Google got right with the Mini is the installation. The appliance only takes about 15 minutes to set up and comes with a dedicated network configuration port and an administrative Web interface. Google engineers can also provide technical support via remote access through SSH over port 22, using a public IP.

Another good feature in the Mini is its security architecture. The Mini does not cache security credentials and instead checks credentials before committing to a search. This is a good practice. However, the GSA provides more advanced integrated security such as Single Sign-On.

While the Mini's algorithms produce some of the most relevant search results in the industry, the same cannot be said about satisfying enterprise requirements, which often depend on integration and many other computations to generate relevant searches. Even on most corporate deployments, engineers think the product is too limited.

The Mini does not support SAMBA or other network file systems. Google Linux supports the SMB protocol but it is not used for collecting data from Windows file systems. The appliance can only crawl through Web files that are accessible via HTTP and HTTPS. Meaning, files that are only viewable through Web servers can be indexed.

Even so, the GSA connector architecture is only limited to vendors that have published public interfaces and are interested in supporting the Google appliance through native connectors. Of course, savvy solution providers can always build custom solutions to packages that do not support XML. The GSA uses REST Web services for its API. Engineers would like to see Google offer a WebDAV file server to simplify integration and development.

The Mini is a decent product for small companies that generate some Web content but not enough that exceed the appliance's cap on number of pages. However, the appliance is not enterprise-ready. Similarly, the GSA is limited by the number of searchable documents. Figuring out capacity planning for an appliance that only serves to index documents on highly dynamic enterprise environments can generate many production bottlenecks. Therefore, this model is almost unthinkable to solution providers that work with enterprise customers.

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