Google Mini Goes for the Max

The Internet giant, now a year into the corporate search hardware biz, expands its lineup of devices to try to usher in the vaunted "Google effect."

Google Inc. on Thursday unveiled two new versions of its Google Mini search device, which has in the past year helped establish Google as a player, albeit a small one, in the enterprise hardware market.

The Mini is a kind of computer networking equipment used by corporations to create a beneficial new search feature for internal use, or to help a Web-based company offer a zippier or more cutting-edge query corner for its audience.

The new Minis can index 200,000 and 300,000 documents, and cost $6,000 and $9,000, respectively. The original Mini, introduced last January, costs $3,000 and can handle up to 100,000 documents.

Its estimated that corporations spent $600 million in 2005 for this type of equipment. Enterprise search falls under the category that number-crunching analysts call "work-force optimization." Analysts at Datamonitor predict $1 billion in sales of such services and gear by the end of 2006.

Despite robust sales during its first year, Googles Mini still ranks far behind the markets incumbents. As of mid-2005, Google Enterprise had 2,000 corporate clients, which puts the Mountain View, Calif., company far behind Microsoft Corp., Verity Inc., Autonomy Corp. of Cambridge, England, and Fast Search & Transfer, of Oslo, Norway.

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In a sign of Googles putting some serious effort behind the Mini, starting in November Google has been giving away its least expensive Mini to new Google Enterprise customers. The offer runs through the end of the month.

The move is uncharacteristically aggressive for the company, which usually doesnt pursue otherwise engaged customers. But the offer is mainly to lure patrons of Verity, making a play on possible customer fears about product changes following the Dec. 30 close of Autonomys purchase of the company.

Regardless of it failing to set the market afire, the Mini has posted some impressive sales figures, which is giving rise to Googles positive evaluation of the devices first year on the market. Since its debut last January, and up to the last quarter, the number of Minis sold has increased by 100 percent, according to Google.

Analysts that follow the usually slumbering market for search hardware say thats unheard of.

Google has managed to rack up the figure targeting mainly small and midsize businesses that once couldnt afford these devices but now theoretically can because of the Minis relatively low price.

More up-to-date Mini sales figures will come in the next few weeks, said Rajen Sheth, product manager for Google Enterprise Division.

"All I can really tell you right now is the numbers are looking good," Sheth said.

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