Exalead updates enterprise search to explore data 'cloud'

French search company Exalead updated its enterprise search offering on Thursday, aiming to make it as easy for workers to search unstructured information on their company's servers as it is for them to search the Internet.

The new brand, CloudView, is about giving enterprise users access to the cloud of data around them, whether on their own machine, on company servers or on the Internet, allowing external data to be incorporated into searches. There's no cloud computing involved, though: the company's intention is to have everything running on its customers' servers.

Exalead has taken its existing enterprise search engine and repackaged it as CloudView OEM Edition, a product that VARs (value-added resellers) can customize or integrate with other software.

CloudView Search Edition uses the same underlying search engine to crawl and present enterprise data, with connectors for systems based on Lotus Notes, EMC Documentum and Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint software, as well as many open database and directory standards.

Both editions will be released to European customers this quarter. The company released beta versions last month to customers in the U.S., a market it is just starting to address.

Exalead is often described as a European competitor to Google, but its spartan Web search page at www.exalead.com is intended more as an advertisement for its enterprise software than as a rival Internet search engine.

"The money we get out of it is just about what it costs us," CEO François Bourdoncle said.

Instead, Bourdoncle has his sights set on Autonomy, Endeca Technologies and Fast Search & Transfer, now a subsidiary of Microsoft.

That Internet search page does, however, act as a laboratory where the company can study the search habits of its users.

"We're betting that the usage and design of enterprise software is going to be influenced by how consumers use consumer products," he said.

Exalead's expectation is that, faced with an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, a product database, an e-mail client or a CRM (customer relationship management) application, users will prefer a tool that can search them all in the same way, rather than learning different techniques for each.

"Our approach is very different from Google's in that we're interested in conversational search," he said.

That 'conversation' takes the form of a series of interactions in which Exalead invites searchers to refine their request by clicking on related terms or links that will restrict the search to certain kinds of site (such as blogs or forums), document format (PDF, Word) or language.

Early next year, Exalead plans a further addition to its enterprise search range, CloudView 360° Edition, which attempts to improve search by exploring the relationships between data from a range of enterprise applications.

"You won't get a long list of results, you will have something like a BI dashboard, a list of related concepts," Bourdoncle said.

To those results, the company could add a "pocket" version of the Internet, an industry-specific subset of the pages crawled for its general-purpose search engine. Such an addition could help, say, a pharmaceutical company to monitor its competitors or comments about it on forums without the distraction of irrelevant results from other sites.

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