Google Search Appliance (GSA) was introduced in 2002, and since then, thousands of organizations have acquired Google “search in a box” to meet their search needs. Earlier this year, Google announced they are discontinuing sales of this appliance past 2016 and will not provide support beyond 2018. If you are currently using GSA for your search needs, what does this mean for your organization?
Google suggests migration from GSA to their Google Cloud Platform. Specifically, their BigQuery service offers a fully-scalable, fully-managed data warehouse with search capabilities and analytics to provide meaningful insights. This may be a great option, but what if your organization or government agency needs to have significant portions of your infrastructure in-house, behind firewalls? This new Google offering may be ill-suited as a possible replacement for GSA.
There are some other important elements you will want to consider before making your decision such as protecting sensitive data, investment stability, customizability, feature set, ongoing costs, and more.
Let’s look at some of the options together.
1. COMMERCIAL APPLIANCES
Examples: SearchBlox, Thunderstone, Mindbreeze
Commercial appliances can be fast to deploy if you have little requirement for customization. As such, they may need little or no professional services involvement.
Because appliance products aim to be stand-alone, black box solutions, they may be less customizable to meet specific needs, and may not be able to easily integrate with many other technologies. Because the hardware is set for you, if your requirements change over time, you may end up with a product that no longer meets your needs. You may also be tied to the vendor for ongoing support, and as with GSA, there is no guarantee the vendor won’t discontinue the product and have you starting over again to find your next solution.
2. CLOUD-BASED SOLUTIONS
Examples: Google Cloud (BigQuery), Amazon CloudSearch, etc.
A cloud-based solution can be both cost-effective and fast to deploy, and will require little to no internal IT support depending on your needs. Because the solution is based in the cloud, most of the infrastructure and associated costs will be covered by the provider as part of the solution pricing.
Cloud solutions may not work for organizations with sensitive data. While cloud-based solutions try to provide easy-to-use and flexible APIs, there might be customizations that can’t be performed or that must be done by the provider. Your organization may not own any ongoing development. Also, if you ever wish to leave, it may be difficult or costly to leave a cloud provider if you heavily rely on them for warehousing large portions of your data.
3. COMMERCIAL SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS
Examples: Coveo, OpenText Search, HP IDOL, Lexmark Perceptive Platform, IBM Watson Explorer, Senequa ES, Attivio
Commercial solutions work great behind firewalls. You can maintain control of your data within your own environment. Several commercial products often make several configuration assumptions that can potentially save time to deploy when minimal customization is required. Commercial vendors try to differentiate themselves by offering “specializations”, along with rich feature sets and administrative tools out of the box. If most of your requirements fit within their main offerings, you may have fewer needs for customization, potentially leading to professional services savings.
Because there are so many commercial products out there, your organization may need to complete lengthy studies, potentially with the assistance of a consultant, to compare product offerings to see which will work with your platform(s) and compare all feature sets to find the best fit. Customization may be difficult or costly, and some products may not scale equally well to match your organization’s changing and growing needs. Finally, there is always risk that commercial products get discontinued, purchased, or otherwise vanish from the market, forcing you to migrate your environment to another solution once more. We have seen this with Verity K2, Fast, Fulcrum search, and several others.
4. CUSTOM OPEN SOURCE SOLUTIONS
Examples: Apache Solr, Elasticsearch
Going open source is often the most flexible solution you can implement. Having full access to a product source code makes customization potential almost unlimited. There are no acquisition or ongoing licensing costs, so the overall cost to deploy can be much less than for commercial products, and you can focus your spending towards creating a tailored solution rather than a pre-built commercial product. You will have the flexibility to change and add on to your search solution as your needs change. It is also good to point out that the risk of the product being discontinued is almost zero due to the advanced adoption of open source for Search. Being open source, add-on component options are plentiful and these options grow every day thanks to an advanced online community – and many of these options are also free!
Depending on the number and complexity of your search requirements, the expertise required may be greater and an open source solution may take longer to deploy. You often need good developers to implement an open source solution; you will need key in-house resources, or be prepared to hire external experts to assist with implementation. If using an expert shop, you will want to pre-define your requirements to ensure the project stays within budget. It is good to note that unlike some of the commercial products, open source products usually keep a stronger focus on the search engine itself. This means they often lack many accompanying components and features, often shipping with commercial products (like crawlers for many data sources, built-in analytics reporting, industry-specific ontologies, etc). Luckily, open source solutions often integrate easily with several commercial or open source components that can be used to fill these gaps.
I hope this brief overview helps you begin your assessment on how to replace your Google Search Appliance, or implement other Search solutions.