Oracle Shakes Up Search

The 800-pound gorilla has entered the room, but will users find its offering sturdy enough?

Helping enterprises 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 Oracle is 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 is expected to grow by more than 20 percent a year.

With that kind of money at stake, niche players such as Autonomy and Fast Search & Transfer are getting nervous, and with good reason, 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 products offered by Yahoo, Google, MSN or America Online, 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 and robust than offerings from niche enterprise search vendors., 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, despite that Oracle had been driving content to the site for six years.

The problem with Oracle search came down to scalability. "Wed gotten up to 60 or 70 queries per second out of an Oracle database," said Larry Korb, a lead architect for, in Atlanta. "We found to add [features] was very, very difficult with Oracle. It just couldnt scale."

Two years ago, AutoTrader. com wanted to tweak Microsofts SQL to get union joins—the combination of multiple queries into one query—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, 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. Last year, Oracle 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 just not buying it. "Oracles known for taking products theyve released in the past, rebuilding them and bringing them out as a new product," he said. "This is what [Enterprise Search 10g] is to me." evaluated many search products, including Google Search Appliance, which it found "didnt integrate well with databases" and was "very expensive," Korb said. The company wound up going with Fast Search & Transfer, mainly because it scaled better than anything else out there.

Another Oracle shop, management consultancy A.T. Kearney, has the opposite view of Oracles new product. The company 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 competing clients projects shouldnt be able to view sensitive data in other clients projects, said CIO Mike Johnson in Chicago.

The Oracle tools Google-like interface, its price and its respect for business rules sold A.T. Kearney on the purchase, and its been in production for approximately three months. Chief Technology Officer John Laughhunn said that a big plus is that its cut down on the amount of time needed to assess available resources and information.

Meanwhile, Oracles search can integrate with its own database better than other search vendors. "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."

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, [Oracle] may have an easier time getting into, regarding a captive audience."