Google Search Appliance Is Going Away, What Should You Do?

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Google Search Appliance (GSA) was Google’s first physical hardware product, with a history dating all the way back to 2002. It’s actually a whole computer that sits on a company’s network and indexes the data fed into it for easier search retrieval. Have you ever thought, “Boy, I wish I could google for the stuff on my computer”? Well, that’s essentially what the GSA does, except beyond just one person’s computer. It was designed to use Google’s proprietary indexing and search algorithms to find content inside an entire company: emails, documents, system logs, images, whatever. Pretty cool, right?

But along with their Site Search product, Google has decided to end support for this service. They already stopped updating the hardware in 2009, and the last software update came in 2014.

What! Why??

The reason for the death of GSA is easy to guess—it’s simply not practical anymore in 2017 to provide physical search indexing hardware. Computers require updates, hardware and software. They’re prone to failure. They usually have security holes that the IT department never patched, or live on dangerously insecure networks. Managing thousands of computers around the world is a tough and costly job, and it’s not surprising that Google doesn’t want to deal with it anymore—especially considering that they’re a leader in cloud-based products.

(If it were even still possible to become a GSA customer, you’d end up with an 8 year old computer running 3 year old software. Google must have lost interest in this technology ages ago.)

So what do I do now?

For current Google Search Appliance users, the answer is fairly easy: wait. Google has promised that before they entirely cut off their Enterprise customers, they’re going to provide a cloud-based equivalent of GSA. So if sending all your company data off to a Google server for storage and indexing is OK, you’re done. Google’s going to take care of the rest.

That’s not a solution that works for everybody. Certainly in the healthcare industry, where data is supposed to be stored with the utmost privacy, sending patient information to a third party could turn into a legal mess that isn’t worth dealing with. And of course, there are other industries and companies that simply can’t or won’t send their secrets off to a Google server. What do they do?

Thankfully, the alternatives are fairly robust and perhaps even better than the product Google used to provide. Two of the most popular open-source products are Elasticsearch and Apache Solr; combined with a few other technologies, they can do GSA’s old job with great aplomb. But it’s not easy to set up—installation should be done by a vendor that specializes in this kind of thing. You’ll need an install that’s customized for your unique business setup.

And if on-site, localized search indexing is truly needed, it’s time to start working on it now. Transitioning a network will not be a straightforward process. In-house engineers might be able to tackle the job, but no matter who does it, installation will take some time, perhaps months. Google will only be providing support for the Search Appliance until the end of 2018.

Leaving Google’s enterprise search product is not going to be easy for most, but really, it’s worth it. Moving to a newer open technology comes with a slew of performance and privacy benefits. You’ll be able to get support from a much larger pool of engineering talent. The short term costs of moving to a new technology are going to be significant, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.

Lead image source: Wikipedia

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