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5 posts from March 2013

March 20, 2013

Open Source Search Myth 3: Skills Required In-House

This is part of a series addressing the misconception that open source search is too risky for companies to use. You can find the introduction to the series here; this is Part 3 of the series; for Part 2 click Potentially Expensive Customizations.

Part 3: Skills Required In-House

One of the hallmarks of enterprise software in general is that it is complex. People in large organizations who manage instances of enterprise search as no less likely than their non-technical peers to believe that "if Google can make search so good on the internet, enterprise search must be trivial". Sadly, that is the killer myth of search.

Google on the internet - or Bing or Baidu or whichever site you use and love - is good because of the supporting technology, NOT simply because of search. I'd wager that most of what people like about Google et al has very little to do with search and a great deal to do constant monitoring and tweaking of the platform.

Consider: at the Google 'command line' (the search box), you can type in an arithmetic equation such as "2+3" get 5. You can enter a FedEx tracking number and get a suggestion to link to FedEx for information. It's cool that Google provides those capabilities and others; but those features are there because Google has programs looking at search behavior for all of its users every day in order to understand user intent. When something unusual comes up, humans get involved and make judgments. When it makes sense, Google implements another capability - in front of the search engine, not within it.

Enterprise search is the same - except that very few companies invest money in managing and running their search; so no matter how well you tune it at the beginning, quality deteriorates over time. Enterprise search is not 'fire and forget'.

 Any company that rolls out a mission critical application and does NOT have their own skilled team in house is going to pay a consulting form thousands of dollars a day forever. 'Nuff said.


March 18, 2013

Solr 4 Training 3/27 in Northern Virginia/DC area

Interrupting my series on whether open source search is a good idea in the enterprise to tell you about an opportunity to attend LucidWorks' Solr Bootcamp in Reston, Virginia on Wednesday March 27. Lucid staff and Lucene/Solr committers Erick Erickson and Erik Hatcher will be there, along with Solr pro Joel Bernstein. Heck, I'll even be there!

The link is here; for readers of our blog, use discount code SOLR4VA-5OFF for a discount.

Course Outline:

  • What's new in Solr 4
  • Solr 4 Functional Overview
  • Solr Cloud Deep Dive
  • Solr 4 Expert Panel Case Studies
  • Workshop and Open lab

And ask the guys how you can get involved in Solr as a contributor or committer!


March 15, 2013

Open Source Search Myth 2: Potentially Expensive Customizations

This is part of a series addressing the misconception that open source search is too risky for companies to use. You can find the introduction to the series here; this is Part 2 of the series; for Part 3 click Skills Required In House.

Part 2: Potentially Expensive Customization

Which is more expensive: open source or proprietary search platforms?

Commercial enterprise search vendors often quote man-years of effort to create and deploy what, in many cases, should be relatively straightforward site search.  Sure, there are tough issues: unusual security; the need to mark-up content as part of indexing; multi-language issues; and vaguely defined user requirements.

Not to single them out, but Autonomy implementations were legend for taking years. Granted, this was usually eDiscovery search, so the sponsor - often a Chief Risk Officer - had no worries about budget. Anything that would keep the CRO and his/her fellow executives out of jail was reasonable. But even with easier tasks such as search-enabling an intranet site, took more time and effort than it needed because no one scoped out the work. This is one reason so many IDOL projects hire large numbers of IDOL contractors for such long projects.

FAST was also famous for lengthy engagements. 

FAST once quoted a company we later worked with a one year $500K project to assist in moving from ESP Version 4.x to ESP Version 5.x. These were two versions that were, for all purposes, the same user interface, the same API, the same command line tools. Really? One year?

True story: I joked with one of the sales guy that FAST even wanted 6 months to roll out a web search for a small intranet; I thought two weeks was more like it. He put me on the spot a year later and challenged me to help one of his customers, and sure enough, we took almost a month to bring up search! But we had a constraint: the new FAST search had to be callable from the existing custom CMS, which had hard-coded calls to Verity K2 - the customer did not have time to re-write the CMS.

Thus, part of our SOW was to write a front-end that would accept search requests using the Verity K2 DLL; intercept the call; and perform the search in FAST ESP. Then, intercepting the K2 results list processing calls, deliver the FAST results to the CMS that thought it was talking with Verity. And we did it in less that 20% of the time FAST wanted to index a generic HTML-bases web site.

On the other hand, at LucidWorks we frequently have 5-day engagements to set up the Solr and LucidWorks Search; index the user's content; and integrate results in the end user application. I think for most engagements, other Solr and open source implementations are comparable. 

Let me ask: which was the more "expensive" implementation?

March 13, 2013

Open Source Search Myth 1 - Enhancements by Committee

This is part of a series addressing the misconception that open source search is too risky for companies to use. You can find the introduction to the series here; this is Part 1 of the series; for Part 2, click Potentially Expensive Customizations.

Part 1: Enhancements Subject to Committee

The original article back on LinkedIn called out one 'flaw' of open source search the belief that updates and improvements were made only on a timetable selected by the community - presumably the committers.  

One of the hallmarks of Apache open code projects is that, when you make a change or make an enhancement to the code, you submit the changes back to the Apache project. 

My employer, LucidWorks, enhances Solr, and we push back changes we make for consideration of the entire Solr community. Many of these changes are accepted and become part of Solr - almost all because of demand/need we see in our commercial customers, which helps everyone. 

Occasionally, a customer has a specific need and asks us to develop capabilities that are not part of the standard release. Sometimes the enhancements are on the Apache project plan; and sometimes they are unique. In any case, we create the enhancement and submit them for consideration in the standard Solr trunk. Once we’ve done so, anyone can download our enhancements and use them. And, as we do at LucidWorks, anyone can write enhancements for themselves and make them available.

Compare this to commercial search vendors who update on their own (typically unpublished) schedule; and no one can add a feature on their own. The vendor decides, and the consumer can only hope. And you pay upward of 20% of the list price every year in anticipation of the change you hope for but cannot add on your own.

And no matter what happens to Solr, our customers have the source code to self-support forever - no involuntary forced conversion. 

March 11, 2013

Open source search engine - a good idea?

My transition to LucidWorks has been a busy one with little time for other interests and hobbies (like flying!). But a week or so back I spotted a November 2012 post on the LinkedIn Enterprise Search Engine Professionals group asking the question in this post's title. 

Of course, LucidWorks provides deep support for Solr, and markets a Solr-based enterprise search product; but it's my work with enterprise search technology for the last 20+ years that really drives my response. Sadly, my reply was longer than LinkedIn allows.. so I posted a shorter link there and have come back here to reply in full. It's going to take a few posts though, so bear with me if you will. 

First, my response to the poster: Eight years ago open source was cool, but was probably not 'enterprise ready'.  Enterprise search is hard, but years ago the Apache projects (Lucene and Solr) began working to solve the tough issues - ones that were not commercially worth it for the 8 to 10 major commercial enterprise search companies.

Then a funny thing happened: Solr got better and better; and the commercial vendors started merging. Verity got sucked into Autonomy, which got sucked into HP. FAST got sucked into Microsoft. Vivisimo got sucked into IBM. And with every acquisition, the time and money that enterprises had invested in commercial search became totally wasted - when the platform you based your search on got acquired, you had to move to the new engine. A painful, expensive and long process,

As I blogged just a few weeks ago, open source search is now the default SAFE choice for enterprises that need search. You may have to do some coding, or find a skilled expert/team to help; but you own your destiny. Lucid (my company) does sell support for Solr; there are other fine companies, large and small, that do so. We're fortunate enough to employ a good number of the committers - no majority, which is probably best for the community. 

The original poster, an employee of a proprietary search vendor, may have had his reasons. Nonetheless, he listed five reasons he felt that open source search for enterprises was a bad idea - based on a three year old report by my friend Hadley Reynolds - taken a bit out of context. These 'disadvantages' are listed and linked below.  

* Enhancements on community timetable only

* Potentially expensive customization

* Requirement for search development skills in-house or ready-to-hand

* Production functionality may trail in specific features relative to commercial search firms

* Maintenance/system life costs can become significant

In the next several posts, I'm going to address and refute these one at a time. Stay tuned.