Google’s announcement that it will discontinue the Google Search Appliance (GSA) was the big story in enterprise search this month. 

No new systems can be purchased. Resellers and partners can sell one-year license renewals for existing systems through 2017, to end in 2018. Google will continue to fix bugs, provide security updates and continue support until that date. Some support licenses will remain in effect through 2019.

Unlike many software products with term licenses, the GSA is licensed for a specific time frame. When the time limit passes, the software stops working. That nice yellow Google appliance becomes a nice side table.

Google expects a number of its current customers to switch to a cloud solution, although it has yet to release details on capabilities or pricing for that service. 

However, cloud search is often unsuitable for GSA customers who use it inside the firewall. Many Microsoft customers maintain their in-house SharePoint instances on-premises because, by law, they cannot have private content "in the cloud" in many countries. Google customers will likely have the same problem — except, of course, they cannot maintain the GSA “in house” after the cut-off date.

What to Look For In a Replacement

The GSA bundles several very nice — and in some cases critical — elements of an enterprise search platform. Some of these include:

  • A crawler
  • Connectors
  • Document level security
  • Scalability for content and query activity
  • Search activity reporting
  • Synonyms, best bets, blocks

And finally, a GUI interface for IT and for business owners.

In the wake of the announcements earlier this month, a number of companies have started positioning their products and services as "GSA replacements.” Some of these offer an appliance, and some are on-prem software. 

Some I look at and can understand their positioning. For others, I wonder if they even know what GSA offers. 

All will require planning.

Next Steps

First and foremost, don’t panic.

Determine when your GSA license expires: that will establish the deadline for your complete conversion to a new platform. You’ll likely have a minimum of 22 months, a maximum of 34 months.

In my experience, it will take anywhere from six months to a year or more to select, license, implement and deploy a new enterprise search solution — and that’s if you’re ready to start today.

Start by reviewing your GSA usage to see if a cloud-based solution is acceptable.

If not, and you have an existing enterprise search, research whether that platform can effectively replace your GSA. If your users praise your existing enterprise search platform, that may be all you need.

But if yours is like most companies I’ve worked with, you’re more likely to hear “search sucks” than “search is great!” The GSA end-of-life may be an opportunity to revisit your entire search strategy.

If you already have a “Search Center of Excellence,” you’re ahead of the game. If not, find people who cross a wide range of management levels and from every department. Create a team from this cross section: everyone is impacted by enterprise search changes, so every part of your organization should be involved. 

Get Professional Help

A therapist may help, but at this point I’d recommend a partner with a strong enterprise search practice that has done dozens of complex search evaluations and implementations. Select a partner with broad experience with a number of commercial and open source products, one that can help you through the process from requirements gathering to production release.

Work with your partner to determine what specific capabilities of the GSA you are using, and rank them in importance. If your new platform will go beyond web search, determine what capabilities your internal users have, need and expect. Be sure to include novice and power search users in your audit.

Know Your Data

Next, identify your data sources. Document the starting URL for each, the data types and the security associated with each — you will need this for your new platform. Check your existing logs to determine the amount of search activity across your sources. This is a good time to confirm that all of your searchable documents comply with your corporate retention program.

Look at content security requirements across the enterprise. Do you use LDAP, Active Directory, Kerberos, single sign on or some other type of security? Do you need early or late binding?

Talk with your users to see what they like and dislike about your current platform. Again, include power users and novice searchers. Are there features they count on, or features they really miss? Your web marketing staff may also have specific information they count on for web activity analysis — make sure to include those in your requirements.

Determine what reporting requirements you have. Do you use "best bets" on the GSA? Are there legal reporting requirements? Or can you decide the level of information you need?

Look at the market, meet with potential vendors, and narrow your replacement platform to one or two candidates. Consider a side-by-side evaluation or "bake off" — no matter how good the slides look, you cannot tell how any product will work until you test it in your environment. Your partner should be able to help both in narrowing the platforms to evaluate and running the comparison. Test everything: indexing and index coverage, security, and the user search experience.

Once you have selected a candidate platform, spec out the servers you’ll need, including failover/load balancing, and begin your implementation.

Throughout this process, keep your users up to date: why it’s happening, and what they can expect when. Train power users in each department on the advanced features of the new platform. Your users will appreciate the updates; and having power users to provide support will ease the transition.

No matter what, get started now. Good luck!

Title image by Andy Beales