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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?

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