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Can SAP enterprise search succeed in a crowded market?

SAP's enterprise search offering will enter a competitive market when it is released later this year.

The hotly contested enterprise search market is crowded with smaller search-focused vendors and large software...

companies. It will be tough, but not impossible, for SAP to set itself apart, according to one industry analyst.

Enterprise search used to be the exclusive realm of independent, search-focused vendors such as Fast Search & Transfer ASA, Autonomy Inc., Endeca Technologies Inc., Inxight Software Inc., and others that have been building products for almost 10 years.

More recently, though, large vendors such as SAP, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle -- which just today released the latest version of its Secure Enterprise Search 10g -- have entered the market in earnest. The search box has become a primary interface for the knowledge worker, and these companies fear that, without it, they may miss yet-unknown opportunities, according to Whit Andrews, a research vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

And then there's Google -- the elephant in the search room.

"Google scares them the most," Andrews said. "All four big software companies are afraid of potential lost opportunities because Google outruns them, starting with search."

When SAP's search is released in the first half of 2007, it will be available as a standalone product or embedded as part of other SAP software. The three beta versions that have been released on the SAP Developer Network have generated more than 700 downloads so far.

"SAP's search will talk to SAP and non-SAP data, and unify structured and unstructured search," said Dennis Moore, general manager for emerging solutions at SAP.

SAP's approach, known as federated search, is essentially a central engine that feeds queries out into other engines, which in turn search multiple data sources.

A federated search strategy is promising because SAP can't expect to be the only search vendor for the vast majority of potential clients, Andrews said. With a federated product, SAP can act as a centralized tool that hands off queries to different search products around the system.

"SAP is saying, 'Look, we don't care what you use already, we can help,'" he said.

While the strategy is sound, Andrews points out that developing an effective federated search product is far from easy.

"A user has to be able to enter anything they can dream up in one area and get the result they are looking for, regardless of the system the information resides in," he said. "The search product has to figure out what the query is asking and what repository the information resides in -- all in milliseconds."

A work in progress

More on SAP search
See what SAP had to say about its Project Argo search developments at TechEd

See how SAP plans to extend enterprise search to Google

Read about Oracle's latest search news

In the short term, Andrews expects that SAP will target its search marketing efforts at current customers. But that is likely to change over time. A federated search strategy means SAP's potential for growth in the market is much larger than it would have been if it had developed a more vanilla offering, he said.

Customers considering SAP's search offering should remember that the product is "early generation" and will probably have some kinks to work out, the analyst suggested. And non-SAP customers probably don't need to look at SAP enterprise search at this point for the same reason.

"SAP is looking to provide one search box to rule them all, and in the darkness, bind them," Andrews explained. "But it will take a while before we know if it has succeeded."

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