As companies try to find cost optimisation opportunities during the economic downturn, organisation-wide search projects costing more than $250 000.00 can, in some cases, be completed for much less by avoiding or reducing the costs of a full search platform installation.
"Enterprise architects, information architects and IT managers are frequently instructed to make websites, intranets, extranets and portals, as well as document libraries and mainframe data stores as simple as possible," says Whit Andrews, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Extending such capability across unmanaged data and content stores is often expensive to implement and rarely includes extra setup funding.
"However, companies intending to acquire corporate search technology to roll out a universal platform for search can postpone or eliminate their plans and save money with a tactical alternative, such as federation, application service providers (ASPs), and inexpensive software and appliances."
Companies using existing, as well as new, tactical search engines as target federation points will save money by reducing redundant indices, which cuts storage costs. In simple terms, it allows organisations to incorporate disparate data sources without investing substantially in the intelligence necessary to calculate comparative relevance scores between differing data types, such as customer relationship management (CRM) records and documents.
"While federation can help save money, there are some disadvantages. The costs of such a strategy are reduced success in the relevance of searched information and, in some cases, increased load on subordinate search engines. Particular concepts or document locations dominate the results returned to many queries, which frustrates users and makes it difficult to discern the proper document in a results set," says Andrews. "Additionally, unless queries are pre-processed before they are handed off to federation, they can overload their target engines."
Search delivery alternatives, such as ASPs and appliances, are a viable way of addressing the need for search capability in places such as Web sites, intranets and file servers. Vendors increasingly offer an ASP model for search engines, and organisations requiring searchable external websites will find such models more predictable in relation to capacity versus expenditure.
The costs of such a strategy include the loss of absolute control of the search index, which is why it is primarily used for externally facing public content. Additionally, any failure in search capability associated with the ASP host results in failure for the organisation and an unpredictable quality of service.
"Companies looking at these types of cost-efficiency plans must handle them carefully to avoid a potentially disproportionate reduction in value," says Andrews. "However, on balance, exchanging a high-end platform for a satisfactory substitute will be acceptable for most organisations where cutting IT costs is more urgent than a radical overhaul of services."