Google beefs up Mini search appliance for SMBs

Google has upgraded its Mini search appliance, it announced Tuesday.

Google's Mini search appliance for small and midsize businesses has grown a new set of capabilities for crawling and categorizing documents, the company announced in a blog post Tuesday.

"Almost all employees store files on shared servers so other employees can access them. The Mini is now able to securely crawl and serve these file shares," says the post by Cyrus Mistry, enterprise product manager.

The revision also introduces document "biasing," the practice of ranking the importance of related or similar pieces of information.

"Many customers have told us that they want to tell us which documents are more valuable within their own companies -- for instance, published marketing collateral is more authoritative than the first draft," Mistry wrote. "Source biasing enables users to give us URL patterns and tell us if they should be weighted higher or lower."

The Mini now also enables users to rank documents based on their age.

Finally, Google has boosted the Mini's international reach, adding support for Basque, Catalan, Galician, Greek, Hungarian, and Polish in its help files and administrative interfaces, according to the blog post.

However, the posting does not list any increase in the product's scalability. It can index up to 300,000 documents, compared to its stablemate, the Google Search Appliance, which is geared for larger enterprises and can handle up to 30 million documents.

The announcement of new features stands in contrast to a recent rumor, Google to ditch Mini by TechCrunch, that the company planned to stop selling the product and launch a new hosted search site.

Both IBM and Microsoft offer free, entry-level search products that compete with the Mini. Pricing for the Mini begins at about US$3,000, including two years of support and the necessary hardware.

A Google spokesperson did not respond directly to a query about the TechCrunch rumor, but said the company's "commitment to the Google Mini as the search solution for small to medium-sized businesses and smaller departments of large corporations is evidenced by this announcement."

The new features were prompted by customer requests and market demand, the spokesperson said.

While the capabilities are "not groundbreaking," and high-end systems have had them for years, they "do increase the functionality of base levels of search," said Guy Creese, an analyst with Burton Group, via e-mail.

Customers wouldn't have revolted if Google hadn't added the features, according to Creese. "However, I do think it points to Google viewing the way to win in this market as giving good value for the money," he said. "While competitors are probably grinding their teeth, this is good news for the entire search market, as competing solutions will have to [improve] their feature sets as well."

The move falls in line with past practices, he added: "This is similar to what Google has done with Web analytics. In the past, free or inexpensive Web analytics [were] pretty bare-bones. However, Google Analytics has consistently added features that mean the entry-level solution is now quite full-featured."

Stephen Arnold, a search analyst who tracks Google closely, said the move shows the company has "confidence that sophisticated features are solid enough for toaster customers."

However, it is unlikely that Google plans to boost the Mini's scalability, because it wouldn't make business sense, according to Arnold.

"They never will," he said. "The logic of every box is that it has a hard limit."

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Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service

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