Why Google Is So Tough on the Competition
There is something to be said for taking what is normally complex enterprise software and breaking it down to be something so simple as to be created in a few minutes on an average laptop and accessed via a massive parallel computing system.
That's exactly what happened when I caught up with Nitin Mangtani, senior product manager for enterprise search at Google, at the Search Engine Strategies show in New York City a couple weeks ago.
Mangtani has shepherded products such as the Google Search Appliance, but he launched his new project, Google Commerce Search, into the market last winter.
As its name implies, Google Commerce Search lets retailers power their online stores with Google's search technology. The idea is to get searchers to find products faster, which boosts sales for Google customers such as Birkenstock USA, which uses the software on one of its online properties.
Traditional enterprise search products such as Vivisimo and Endeca are loaded on-premises and suck up a lot of computing resources.
Google, of course, hosts this enterprise search product on its own servers in the cloud to assuage customers' concerns about handling holiday traffic spikes. Google's cloud approach was certainly a departure from the incumbent specialists in retail search, but it was hardly a surprise.
What was a surprise was how quickly and easily Website publishers can set up an application to search their Websites. Mangtani set up a Commerce Search engine for partner Best Buy on my Lenovo laptop in about 5 minutes. No kidding!
Mangtani didn't even wrote any code. He just plugged the merchant ID number he associated with Best Buy into Google's Commerce Search and I had on my laptop a windows into Best Buy products, courtesy of Google's cloud.
Here's a snippet:
The data includes cameras sold by Best Buy. It's got all the trimmings and the refinements shoppers would need to narrow their search to find the right camera model to suit their needs, including color, price and gadget features. Mangtani told me:
Most of the solutions today are still stuck in the era of on-premises computing, where you need to deploy hardware, software, service packs. I can do this on any laptop, accessing [Google's] cloud. For someone else to build this demo, it would be a three-month proof of concept.
Incumbent search specialists sell companies powerful search packages to download on their servers for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Google's approach with the cloud is much faster, and, starting at $50,000 per year, cheaper than most.
This is disruptive, and it's another example of what I refer to as the Google Creep.
It's the notion that Google is infiltrating new niches of high-tech software using its Web-based, cloud computing approach, and undercutting the existing purveyors on simplicity, scale and/or price.
We're seeing this practice in annotation services with Sidewiki, which is free. We're seeing it in domain name systems with Google DNS, also free. Google is trying to shake up the ISP and carrier market by testing broadband networks (the test is free for residents of whatever lucky city Google selects this year.)
By making Google Commerce Search faster, easier and less expensive than the classic on-premises enterprise search from incumbent providers, Google is providing, as The Godfather would say, an offer customers can't refuse.
That doesn't leave much room for the people who have been playing in the space for years.
I begged and pleaded with Mangtani to tell me how much or little Google Commerce Search had been picked up since it launched last holiday season, but he declined to provide numbers. "It's been pretty good," he allowed.
Of course, if no one buys the software, "dead simple" becomes just another computer science trick in a long line of CS tricks. If no one uses the software, dead simple is moot.
The Google Creep, while deadly efficient, faces several obstacles. First, it's not always going to be the right solution for customers' needs.
Second, enterprise customers are just coming around to the notion that you can safely store their sensitive data in a cloud.
Third, many businesses just don't trust Google because it's gotten so big and data hungry. Some folks view Google as a Microsoft for the modern Web age.
So the Google Creep may squeeze the competition and bears watching, but it's hardly a sure thing in every market.