Acquia Search - Solr Powered, Faceted and Pluggable
With DrupalCon well under way now, we are hearing a lot of announcements about new services and upcoming features and functionality for the web content management solution. One very interesting announcement is the official beta release of the new Acquia Search to the public.

A hosted search service for Drupal 6 websites, Acquia Search offers a number of advanced features that will help make your website hum with activity.

A New Search Service for Drupal Websites

Drupal has a search module already part of the core functionality. But it really isn't designed to match the features and functionality of the big search engines like Google or Yahoo.

Acquia hopes that the introduction of a hosted search service for Drupal websites will help bring Drupal into mainstream adoption by providing the web content management system with strong search capabilities -- something enterprise level web content management systems really require.

Search Features and Functionality

The new search service is built upon the Lucene and Solr technologies from the Apache project. Hosted on the Acquia Network, it is a webservice that offers advanced search capabilities to any size website built on Drupal 6 and up.

Features of the search service include:

  • Faceted Search: Probably one of the most in-demand features of search engines today, faceted search provides more comprehensive search filters to really drill down and find the information you need
  • Results Sorting and Weighting: Sort your results by a number of parameters such as date, type and author or have certain results appear higher in the results screen by weighting them as more relevant to the type of query
  • Content Recommendations: Recommend related content based on the search and give visitors a reason to stick around longer
  • Faster Performance: Acquia Search is faster than the built-in search module within Drupal

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Acquia Search - Results Screen
 

According to the Acquia Search website, this is just the start of the features the new search service will offer. One upcoming feature includes Faceted Site Navigation (which you could also get now with some custom coding).

Hosted on the Acquia Network

The new search service is hosted on the Acquia Network. If you haven't heard of it, the Acquia Network provides support and network services -- such as remote site management -- for Drupal 6.x websites for a subscription fee.

Referred to as an "Operations Portal", the Acquia Network connects you with Technical Support and a number of site management capabilities to support and manage websites built on Drupal 6 and up.

Some of these services include:

  • System profile management
  • Automated spam blocking with Mollom
  • Heartbeat uptime monitoring
  • Site usage statistics
  • Remote cron activation
  • Code modification detection for sites running Acquia Drupal
  • Software update management for sites running Acquia Drupal
  • Online documentation

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Acquia Network Services

Subscriptions to the network start at a Basic Subscription for US$ 199 to an Enterprise Subscription for US$ 8,000 annually. Note these prices are for a single site. See here for more information on their pricing model.

How Acquia Search Works

An Acquia Search module in installed on your website and monitors it, checking every 5-10 minutes for new or updated content. That content is sent to the Acquia indexing servers and then disseminated to multiple search servers.

When you perform a search on your website, the request is sent to the Acquia service which does the work and sends a result set back to the search module.

The search index is protected by SSL when it is in transit and by HMAC authentication in the Acquia Network.

It will also respect any authentication controls placed on content within your site so that users can only see what they are allowed to.

What Does This Mean for Drupal's Own Search Module?

This new search service is not designed to replace Drupal's own search module, but rather complement it. Work on the search module for Drupal 7 is already underway with some expected new functionality.

However, as Dries Buytaert says, there are use cases for both the hosted search and the built in search, you just need to know what your needs are. Drupal.org is an example of a website that uses Acquia Search instead of the core search module.

Acquia provides a number of reasons to choose Acquia Search over the built-in module. If you are looking for a configurable search solution that is faster and provides more relevant results, then you should look at Acquia Search. In addition, the built-in module does not offer faceted search.

Free for Now...

Acquia Search is offered as a free service... for now at least.  Buytaert indicates that reason for a free public beta is to give them time to figure out the pricing model. They are expecting to have two components to the pricing for the search service including: the number of nodes on a site and the number of search queries.

By watching how the beta is used, Acquia will get a better idea of how the pricing will best work. They have indicated that it will likely be free to subscribers of the Acquia Network, based of course on some levels for amount of content indexed and searches performed.

Head over to the Acquia website to sign up for the free beta. You need to have a subscription to the Acquia network. But worry not, if you don't, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial.

The Beginning of a New Drupal?

With a 2009 roadmap that announces not only a new hosted search service, but also a hosted Drupal web content management offering and a cloud-based infrastructure option, Acquia is certainly doing everything it can to bring Drupal into mainstream adoption. 

With open source solutions getting much more attention these days, it will be interesting to see how 2009 plays out for Acquia and these new services.