Helping enterprises to find data thats right under their noses means big bucks, and Oracles gotten hip to it—much to the chagrin of boutique enterprise search vendors.
On March 1, Oracle unveiled a secure enterprise search engine that reaches into every nook and cranny but minds its ps and qs around business rules and sensitive data.
Oracle Secure Enterprise Search 10g scours and indexes internal and external data sources, mindful of corporate security policies.
Its easy to see why Oracles hungry to get a piece of the enterprise search pie: Sue Feldman, an analyst at IDC, estimates the 2005 market was about $900 million, and the growth rate is over 20 percent.
With that kind of money at stake, niche players like Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer are, predictably, stepping up to slam the 800-lb. gorilla that just entered their room. “[Oracle] will do basic things first and say its wonderful,” said Andrew McKay, vice president of product marketing for Fast.
Dont be so sure, said Feldman, in Framingham, Mass.
“[Oracle] set up an incredible collection of search experts to develop an enterprise search product that has all the usual search technology and some interesting stuff as well,” she said.
That includes phrase identification (the ability to discern a words accuracy in relation to its proximity to other phrase words) and the ability to identify the names of people, places and things.
Those capabilities may sound like no-brainers, but theyre lacking in search offered by Yahoo, Google, MSN or AOL, although such consumer search players will likely offer it soon, Feldman said.
At any rate, its not hard to find Oracle users wholl come down on either side of the question of whether Oracles search technology is more sophisticated than offerings from niche enterprise search vendors.
AutoTrader.com, which has been an Oracle shop for seven years, passed over Oracle ConText (an earlier search product) when it came time to ratchet up search, in spite of the fact that Oracle had been driving content to the site for six years.
The problem with Oracle search came down to scalability. “Were very good at tuning databases and getting content delivered out of a database,” said Larry Korb, a lead architect for AutoTrader.com, in Atlanta.
“Wed gotten up to 60 or 70 queries per second out of an Oracle database. … We found to add [additional features] was very, very difficult with Oracle. It just couldnt scale.”
Two years back, AutoTrader.com wanted to tweak SQL to get union joins and subqueries. Such search finessing would have given site visitors aggregated views of, for example, one Ford F150 truck thats representative of the 30 trucks in stock at a given dealer, Korb said.
Korb said that in testing Oracle ConText, AutoTrader.com found that adding more search criteria made the search product scale “less and less.”
Granted, as Feldman pointed out, Oracle has been putting people, resources and time into honing search since ConText. In 2005, it acquired Context Media, which provides content integration and unified access features with its content interchange platform.
It also acquired TripleHop, which contributes contextual search and federation to multiple sources.
But, Korb said, given his past experience with Oracle search, hes still not buying the latest pitch or the latest technology. “We evaluated [the early version], but looking at the [current] technology on their Web site, it looks like just a different packaging of their ConText solution,” he said.
“Oracles known for taking products theyve released in the past, rebuilding them and bringing them out as a new product. This is what [Enterprise Search 10g] is, to me.”
AutoTrader.com evaluated many search products, including Google Appliance, which it found “didnt integrate well with databases” and which was “very expensive,” Korb said.
The company wound up going with Fast search technology, mainly because it scaled better than anything else out there. “It can easily scale to 600 queries per second on 16 midrange HP servers,” he said. “Thats something we never could have achieved on larger servers running Oracle.”
Oracle Shop Embraces Enterprise
Another Oracle shop, management consultancy A.T. Kearney, has the opposite view of Oracles new product. The firm wanted to provide a free-form search environment that would allow users to search predominantly internal knowledge-based resources, and it had to be integrated into complex security models.
For example, consultants working on the firms sometimes competing clients projects shouldnt be able to view sensitive data in other clients projects, said CIO Mike Johnson.
The reason A.T. Kearney as looking at enterprise search in the first place was it was redesigning and reimplementing a global knowledge management infrastructure, which was based on Documentum. The firm was unhappy with Documentums performance, costs and maintenance, as well as interfaces that werent user-friendly.
The Oracle tools price, its respect for business rules and Google-like interface sold A.T. Kearney on the purchase, and its been in production for three months now.
CTO John Laughhunn said that a big plus is that the use of Oracle Enterprise Search 10g has cut down on the amount of time needed to poll the firm as far as what resources and information are available.
A.T. Kearney is likely satisfied with Oracles search product because its not a high-transaction environment, Johnson said, as is an outfit like AutoTrader.com. “If we were in high-transaction areas, my viewpoint might be different,” he said.
Still, Johnson said, hes well satisfied with the stability of the product and with Oracles support.
A.T. Kearney is also tickled pink that Oracles search product returns barebones results even to users who arent authorized to see the given documents, Johnson said.
Search results flag a documents existence or where a piece of information exists without giving away access to the resource. Instead, if something is secured, Oracle Enterprise Search 10g will give the user the ability to send an e-mail to the appropriate party in order to request access to the document.
“[Our] traditional system was a database with documents,” Johnson said.
“Once [the search] found the document, you had access or you didnt. If you didnt, you didnt know the document was out there.”
But one of the most appealing aspects of Oracle search—one that the enterprise search niche players cant match—is, quite simply, that Oracle is plunking a search product right down on top of the world it knows best and owns most of: the database.
That gives users like A.T. Kearney the ability to draw on features in their Oracle database. One such feature is file zip and compress, Johnson said.
“The benefit of tie-in with search and Oracle database [being] married is we use features in the Oracle environment to zip and compress the files,” Johnson said.
“On the fly, if you want to download, it will zip and automatically send it to you. Compare that to the old system, where especially if you were remote,” youd have to wait for the file to download, he said.
Thats a drag, particularly if a user is in a remote location with a slow Internet connection, he said. With Oracles new search technology, theres no waiting for download—the file is simply delivered when its ready, without hanging up a system.
In a nutshell, that type of embedded reliance on Oracle technology, Feldman said, is an illustration of why Oracle is set to shake up the market.
“Theyre so heavily penetrated into IT departments,” she said. “Some organizations, they may have an easier time getting into, regarding a captive audience.”