Big three take on the Google phenomenon

Oracle has thrown its hat into the enterprise search arena, joining IBM and Microsoft in a market Gartner estimates has annual revenues as high as $370 million.

That figure helps explain the interest of major relational database vendors. The revenues are, to a large extent, real, if you’re inclined to believe market watchers. Gartner says its estimate reflects 10 percent growth over last year, and predicts encouraging growth through 2009, at which point the information access and search market could amount to nearly half a billion dollars ($482.1 million) in annual licensing revenues.

That’s still just a mere fraction of overall relational database market revenues, which (according to Gartner’s 2004 figures, the last full year for which figures are available) amounted to nearly $8 billion.

So why not unleash Google, Yahoo!, or Altavista on the problem? Both Google and Yahoo, along with Microsoft, have done just that, introducing desktop search-oriented tools. But the relational database powerhouses say search in the enterprise is too important a problem to be entrusted to the Googles of the world.

Internet search doesn’t discriminate, they argue: It returns any information that turns up in response to a query. That approach won’t wash in the enterprise, for a variety of reasons, says Greg Crider, senior director of product marketing with Oracle.

“People are browsing the Web on their own, they just go to one of these Internet search sites and they get results. And they go back to their office and say, why can’t I have the same sort of experience?” he explains. “On the other hand, if you look at the point of view of what big organizations are going through today, they have all of these concerns about securing their information, about meeting compliance requirements, about dealing with privacy laws, about dealing with intellectual property.”

In essence, Crider says, orgs want to have their search and secure it, too, and that’s the market opportunity for the Oracles of the world. “[IT organizations are] kind of in the middle here, where users are asking for superior ease of use and these new results, but you have the business people involved on the other end demanding ways to secure this information.”

Nelson Mattos, IBM distinguished engineer and senior VP of Big Blue’s Information Integration product group, has outlined ambitious plans for his company’s own search strategy, which officially launched with its new version of WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition late last year. In an interview last summer, Mattos used the example of a pharmacy that deploys IBM’s enterprise search tool to search across patient records and exams and discover potentially lethal combinations of drugs.

IBM is the 800-pound gorilla of enterprise search: it took the enterprise information integration (EII) market mainstream three years ago when it launched its DB2 Information Integrator product, and added enterprise search to its information management portfolio last December. What’s more, IBM last summer said it would make its Unstructured Information Management Architecture—which effectively powers the search capabilities of its WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition—available as open-source software. Big Blue positions UIMA as a powerful search technology that can parse text within documents and other content sources to discover latent meanings, buried relationships, and relevant facts.

In this respect, IBM’s acquisition two weeks ago of Language Analysis Systems further bolsters its search credentials. LAS provides multicultural name identification, profiling and cleansing software. The LAS acquisition complements Big Blue’s purchase last year of SRD, a provider of identity-resolution software.
The idea, analysts say, is that IBM is cobbling together the technology pieces that will enable it to deliver on the vision of search Mattos outlined last year.

Oracle also stitched together its search technology by acquiring technology from outside the company: some of the technology assets it first acquired to flesh out its Project Fusion middleware initiative will soon be put to work in its upcoming enterprise search tool. Last March, Oracle acquired identity management specialist Oblix, which—along with a pair of content-management-related acquisitions (TripleHop Technologies, Context Media)—helps complement its traditional data management and query expertise with identity-based access and content management capabilities.
Neither Big Blue nor Oracle is the last word in enterprise search, of course. Microsoft and Google have both developed search tools for desktop systems (Microsoft has a SharePoint-based enterprise search strategy, too), and much of the “legwork” of enterprise search has also been tackled by EII pure plays such as Composite Software, which markets federated data access solutions.

A two-pronged problem
Wayne Eckerson, research and services director for TDWI, says the search market basically has two dimensions, which in turn describe two very different technology problems. The first is largely business intelligence-related: users are demanding or organizations are attempting to provide them with easier ways to submit ad hoc queries. This more closely resembles a classic BI problem than the second, which has a classic information management impetus. This is the Google phenomenon, in which organizations are embracing search as a way to query both structured and unstructured data.

To date, Eckerson says, there isn’t a consensus on how best to address either of these issues. “There seem to be two approaches to querying unstructured and structured data today,” he explains. “[The first is to] index all the data using search technology, [and the second is to] parse the unstructured data using text mining tools—[effectively] ETL for text—and natural language processing tools [that understand semantics] and put the data in a relational schema where it can be queried.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor for Enterprise Systems. He can be reached at [email protected].