Search engine battle rages

Google Inc., one of the best-known search engine companies, has introduced new information search technology that company officials say is ideal for government agencies.

Google rival Verity Inc. contends that it's not.

Google rolled out its new line of "search appliances" Sept. 30. Company officials claim the appliances will enable government agencies "to offer the world's best search results with an affordable and easy-to-use product." The appliances — packages of software and servers — let information technology "administrators easily deploy search services in secure computing environments, with fresher results and increased index capacity," according to the Mountain View, Calif., company.

The rollout highlighted two appliances — the GB-5005 and the GB-8008.

"We saw their product announcement, and frankly, there's not a lot of news there to us," said Kevin Lindsay, a marketing director at Verity in neighboring Sunnyvale, Calif.

Google's search appliances are intended for both "enterprise search," in which agency employees would use them to find information in agency databases, and for searches by the public on agency Web sites. The appliances can update indexes hourly, protect classified documents and help government workers and citizens find the information they need fast, boasts Google product manager John Piscitello.

Google officials said the Energy and Education departments, two states and a university are customers.

"We're encountering Google in more and more opportunities where they don't belong," Lindsay retorted.

Google is able to sell search engines to government agencies "because of their name recognition," not because of their search prowess, said Steve Hoechster, a public relations specialist hired by Verity.

Verity's vocal volley reveals a "holy war" that is heating up among search engine companies, said Paul Sonderegger, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

With technology companies mired in recession, the federal government is one of the few customers able to spend money on search tools. "In fact, government spending is a sweet spot for search companies right now," Sonderegger said. "And the competition is fierce. There are about a hundred vendors in that space."

From Verity's vantage, "we are seeing a lot of projects being funded" in government, Lindsay said. The push to increase homeland security has highlighted the need for better information sharing, which means federal agencies will need better information search capabilities, he said.

While Google claims hourly index updates, Verity says its search systems offer "real-time indexing" and "trigger updates" that make new documents available instantly.

Lindsay claims that Verity's security features are superior to Google's and derides Google's cache — a feature Piscitello plugs as a way to beat slow servers and quickly find designated search terms in a document — as a security flaw.

While Google claims to provide economical search capabilities (starting at about $28,000 for a system that can search 150,000 documents, and more for systems that can search up to 7 million documents), Lindsay said Verity's systems offer "infinite scalability. We have customers with 250 million documents."

Instead of just finding documents based on search terms, Verity's search technology can sort information according to who in the agency has used it before and what that person's role in the agency is, Lindsay said.

"We're at third-generation search now — it's where it's at," Lindsay said.

According to Sonderegger, both products are good. "Searching is very difficult to do, and there are many different ways to approach it," he said. "Frankly, there is no perfect solution and everyone with a different approach argues that theirs is the best."

Which search tool is best for which agency depends on factors such as the searching skills of the users and the content being searched, he said.

"Google is a good solution when you have a lot of free-form text documents" with links among them, metadata tags or common features such as a database of similar forms or memos, he said. Google is also good for users who don't have sophisticated searching skills.

Verity's technology is also good for those situations and useful for extracting information from multiple types of repositories and sources, Sonderegger said.

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Advanced searching

Google Inc. has improved its family of search engine appliances. Some of the highlights:

* Users can search secure information.

* Administrators can update content hourly or daily.

* The GB-8008 can search up to 7 million documents from a single query.

* The new GB-5005 contains five clustered servers for high-priority searches.

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