6 posts categorized "eDiscovery"

January 20, 2015

Your enterprise search is like your teenager

During a seminar a while back, I made this spontaneous claim. Recently, I made the comment again, and decided to back up my claim - which I’ll do here.

No, really – it’s true. Consider:

You can give your search platform detailed instructions, but it may or may not do things the way you meant:

Modern search platforms provide a console where you, as the one responsible for search, can enter all of the information needed to index content and serve up results. You tell it what repositories to index; what security applies to the various repositories; and how you want the results to look.  But did it? Does it give you a full report of what it did, what it was unable to do, and why?

You really have no idea what it’s doing – especially on weekends:

 Search platforms are notorious for the lack of operational information they provide.

Does your platform give you a useful report of what content was indexed successfully, and which were not – and why? And some platforms stop indexing files when they reach a certain size: do you know what content was not completely indexed?

When it does tell you, sometimes the information is incomplete: 

Your crawler tells you there were a bunch of ‘404’ errors because of a bad or missing URL; but will it tell you which page(s) had the bad link? Chances are it does not. 

They can be moody, and malfunction without any notice:

You schedule a full update of you index every weekend, and it has always worked flawlessly – as far as you know. Then, usually on a 3-day weekend, it fails. Why? See above.

When you talk to others who have search, theirs always sounds much better than yours:

As a conscientious search manager, you read about search, you attend webinars and conferences, and you always want to learn more. But you wonder why other search mangers seem to describe their platform in glowing terms, and never seem to have any of the behavioral issues you live with every day. It kind of makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong with yours.

It costs more to maintain than you thought and it always needs updates:

When you first got the platform you knew there we ongoing expenses you’d have to budget – support, training, updates, consulting. But just like your kid who needs books, a computer, soccer coaching, and tuition, it’s always more than you budgeted. Sometimes way more!

You can buy insurance, but it never seems to cover what you really need:

Bear with me here: you get insurance for your kids in case they get sick or cause an accident, and you buy support and maintenance for your search platform.  But in the same way that you end up surprised that orthodontics are not fully covered, you may find out that help tuning the search platform, or making it work better, isn’t covered by the plan you purchased – in fact, it wasn’t even offered. QED.

It speaks a different vocabulary:

You want to talk with your kid and understand what’s going on; you certainly don’t want to look uncool. But like your kid, your search platform has a vocabulary that only barely makes sense to you. You know rows and columns, and thought you understood ‘fields’; but the search platform uses words you know but that don’t seem to be the same definition you’ve known from databases or CMS systems.

It's hard for one person to manage, especially when it's new:

Many surveys show that most companies have one (or less) full-time staff responsible for running the search engine – while the same companies claim search is ‘critical’ to their mission.  Search is hard to run, especially in the first few years when everything needs attention. You can always get outside help – not unlike day care and babysitters – but it just seems so much better if you could have a team to help manage and maintain search to make it behave better.

How it behaves reflects on you:

You’re the search manager and you’ve got the job to make search work “just like Google”.  You spent more than $250K to get this search engine, and the fact that it just doesn’t work well reflects badly on you and your career. You may be worried about a divorce.

It doesn’t behave like the last one:

People tend to be nostalgic, as are many search managers I know. They learned how to take care of the previous one, but this new one – well, it’s NOTHING like the earlier one. You need to learn its habits and behaviors, and often adjust your behavior to insure peace at work.

You know if it messes up badly late at night, even on a weekend or a holiday, you’ll hear about it:

If customers or employees around the world use your search platform, there is no ‘down time’: when it’s having an issue, you’ll hear about it, and will be expected to solve the issue – NOW. You may even have IT staff monitoring the platform; but when it breaks in some odd and unanticipated way, you get the call. (And when does search ever fail in an expected way?)

 You may be legally responsible if it messes up:

Depending on what your search application is used for, you may find yourself legally responsible for a problem. Fortunately, the chances of you personally being at fault are slim, but if your company takes a hit for a problem that you hadn’t anticipated, you may have some ‘career risk’ of your own. Was secure content about the upcoming merger accidentally made public? Was content to be served only to your Swiss employees when they search from Switzerland exposed outside of the country? And you can’t even buy liability insurance for that kind of error.

When it’s good, you rarely hear about it; when it's bad, you’ll hear about it:

Seriously, how many of you have gotten a call from your CIO to tell you what a great experience he or she had on the new search platform? Do people want to take you to lunch because search works so well? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these, I’d like to hear from you!

In my experience, people only go out of their way to give feedback on search when it’s not working well. It’s not “like Google”. Even though Google has hundreds or people and ‘bots’ examining every search query to try to make the result better, and you have only yourself and an IT guy.

You’ll hear. 

The work of managing it is never done:

The wonderful southern writer Ferrol Sams wrote :

“He's a good boy… I just can't think of enough things to tell him not to do.” Sound like your search platform? It will misbehave (or fail outright) in ways you never considered, and your search vendor will tell you “We’ve never seen a problem like that before”. Who has to get it fixed? You have to ask?

Once it moves away, you sometimes feel nostalgic:

Either you toss it out, or a major upgrade from your vendor comes alone and the old search platform gets replaced. Soon, you’re wishing for the “Good old days” when you knew how cute and quirky the old one was, and you find yourself feeling nostalgic for it and wishing that it didn’t have to move out.

Do you agree with my premise? What  have I missed?

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?

February 14, 2013

A paradigm shift in enterprise search

I've been involved in enterprise search since before the 'earthquake World Series' between the Giants and the A's in 1989. While our former company became part of LucidWorks last December, we still keep abreast of the market. But being a LucidWorks employee has brought me to a new realization: commercial enterprise search is pretty much dead.

Think back a few years: FAST ESP, Autonomy IDOL (including the then-recently acquired Verity), Exalead, and Endeca were the market. Now, every one of those companies has become part of a larger business. Some of the FAST technology lives on, buried in SharePoint 2013; Autonomy has suffered as part of HP because - well, because HP isn't what it was when Bill and Dave ran it. Current management doesn't know what they have in IDOL, and the awful deal they cut was probably based on optimistic sales numbers that may or may not have existed. Exalead, the engine I hoped would take the place of FAST ESP in the search market is now part of Dassault and is rarely heard of in search. And Endeca, the gem of a search platform optimized for the lucrative eCommerce market, has become one of three or four search-related companies in the Oracle stable. 

Microsoft is finally taking advantage of the technology acquired in the FAST acquisition for SharePoint 2013, but as long as it's tied to SharePoint - even with the ability to index external content - it's not going to be an enterprise-wide distribution - or a 'big data' solution. SharePoint Hadoop? Aslongf as you bring SQL Server. Mahout? Pig? I don't think so. There are too many companies that want or need Linux for their servers rather than Windows.

Then there is Google, the ultimate closed-box solution. As long as you use the Google search button/icon, users are happy – at least at first. If you have sixty guys named Sarah? Maybe not.

So what do we have? A few good options generally from small companies that tend to focus on hosted eCommerce - SLI Systems and Dieselpoint; and there’s Coveo, a strong Windows platform offering.

Solr is the enterprise search market now. My employer, LucidWorks, was the first, and remains the primary commercial driver to the open source Apache project. What's interesting is the number of commercial products based on Solr and it's underlying platform, Lucene.

Years ago, commercial search software was the 'safe choice'. Now I think things have changed: open source search is the safe choice for companies where search is mission. Do you agree?

I'll be writing more about why I believe this to be the case over the coming weeks and months: stay tuned.

/s/Miles

 

February 26, 2012

How many gigabytes of memory on your printer?

I read an article originally tweeted by @nickpatience newly of search firm Recommind. In the FT article, HP's Mike Lynch talks about plans to introduce printers with embedded Autonomy IDOL.

At first, I had to chuckle. We've seen big systems brought to their knees indexing content with IDOL, and I imaged steam coming out of my HP laser printer as I print a long contract. (Maybe it was smoke... you know, printers need smoke to make them work. No, really. Ever seen a printer work after smoke came out of it?)

Then I realized that hundreds of companies bundle copies of IDOL with their products, and most implementations are quite successful with a relatively small footprint. And honestly, in another recent engagement, IDOL did provide the best 'out of the box' relevance. This is probably because of the way IDOL breaks documents into smaller units for indexing, and then reassembles them in the result list for human consumption.

But hang on for a minute. A printer with a search engine? I know IDOL is well known in eDiscovery applications; and I've also heard of cases where one team of lawyers will subpoena the disk drives from opposing client's printers. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I'm printing a document, isn't there a good chance it exists on file servers that are already indexed with IDOL (or one of its competitors)? I'd think there is an audit trail back to the original document... no?

And what is the interface, do you suppose? Federated results in from an index within the printer? Traffic from the printer back to IDOL central servers to index the document as it passes through the network? I can imagine a way to reconstruct the document from the IDOL index; but that seems a bit extreme.

Anyway - it may just be that I'm too old-fashioned to understand this sort of thing. It feels to me like a technology - pardon me - in search for a market. I'd just as soon keep IDOL on my servers where I can understand what it's up to - and where it does a pretty darned good job!

What do you think?

 

January 11, 2012

Webinar: What users want from enterprise search in 2012

If you ask the average enterprise user what he or she wants from their internal search platform, chances are good that they will tell you they want search 'just like Google'. After all, people are born with the ability to use Google; why should they need to learn how to use their internal search?

The problem is that web search works so well because, at the sheer scale of the internet, search can take advantage of methodologies that are not directly applicable to the intranet. Yet many of the things that make the public web experience so good can, in fact, be adapted in the enterprise. Our opinion is that, beyond a base level, the success of any enterprise search platform depends on how it is implemented and managed rather than on the core technology.

In this webinar we'll talk about what users want, and how you can address the specific challenges of enterprise content and still deliver a satisfying and successful enterprise search experience inside the firewall.

Register today for our first webinar of the new year scheduled for January 25 : What enterprise users want from search in 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 04, 2012

My search platform ate my homework

In a recent article on inforword.com, Peter Wayner wrote a nifty piece discussing 11 programming trends to watch. It's interesting in general, but I found one trend really rang true for me with respect to enterprise search.

He calls his 9th trend Accuracy fades as scalability trumps all. He points out that most applications are fine with close approximations, based mainly on the assumption that at internet scale, if we miss an instance of something today, we'll probably see it again tomorrow. That brought to mind something I'm working on right now for a customer who needs 100% confidence in their search platform to meet some very stringent requirements. The InfoWorld article reminded me of a dirty little secret of nearly all enterprise search platforms, a secret you may not know (yet); but which could be important to you.

Search platform developers make assumptions about your data, and most search platforms do not index all of your content... by design! Don't get me wrong: these assumptions let them produce pretty good accuracy every time; and even 100% accuracy sometimes. And pretty good is fine most of the time. In fact, as a friend told me years ago, sometimes 'marginally acceptable' is just fine.

The theory seems to be that a search index might miss a particular term in a few documents, but any really important use of the term will clearly be indexed somewhere else and our users will get results from these other documents. In fact, some search platforms have picked an arbitrary size limit, and won't index any content past that limit even if it misses major sections of large documents. Google, in fact, is one of the few who actually document this - once the GSA has indexed 2 MB of text or 2.5MB of HTML in a file, it stops indexing that file and 'discards' the rest. This curious behavior works most of the time for most data (although there is an odd twist that will bite you if you feed GSA a large list of URLs or ODBC records). To be honest, most search platforms do this sort of trimming as well; they just don't mention it too often during the sales process.

Now, in legal markets like eDiscovery, it's pretty darned critical to get every document that contains a particular term. It's not OK to go to court and report that you missed one or more critical document because your search engine truncates or ignores some terms or some documents. That excuse might have worked in elementary school or even in high school, but it just doesn't cut it in demanding enterprise search environments.

It may not be a problem for you; just be sure that, if it is a requirement for you, you include it in your RFI/RFQ documents.