Google – Mini 2.0 review

rack-mount search appliance for businesses
Photo of Google – Mini 2.0
from £1,295 + VAT (includes one year swap-out warranty and support)

Small is beautiful, so they say, but don’t be fooled by the lack of inches on the Google Mini 2.0. It may be half the size of its predecessor (which was pretty small already), but this self-contained search appliance still packs a big punch, enabling small and medium sized businesses to employ Google’s search technology for themselves.

Open the box and inside you find what looks suspiciously like a tiny, bright blue, rack mount server. And indeed, that’s exactly what it is; a SuperMicro server running an implementation of Red Hat Linux. More than that, though, Google is loathe to reveal, and tamper-proof screws stop you looking inside without invalidating the warranty.

But then the hardware doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that it’s sufficient to index anything from 50,000 to 300,000 documents – depending on licensing – and, should it ever go wrong, Google will simply replace it for another.

You do, though, have to pay £695 plus VAT to get that protection and software support after the first year. Plus it doesn’t protect against upgrades, as owners of the original Mini discovered when the new version was announced and they had to buy the whole thing again to get the extra functionality.

Speaking of which, among the many new features is a much-simplified management interface that makes the Mini 2.0 a lot easier to get to grips with. Not that there’s much to do anyway; just key in a list of URLs to search then sit back as the appliance crawls through the data and builds the necessary indices.

Up to 220 different file types can be inspected, including Microsoft Office documents and PDF files as well as ordinary HTML pages. There’s also a scheduler to help automate the process and new facilities to automatically increase the crawl frequency on servers subject to regular changes.

The amount of time it takes to build the indices can be considerable but it’s all done transparently so that doesn’t matter too much, and you can now build as many index collections as you want. Added to which you get lots of built-in reports to help keep track of what’s been happening and tools to help troubleshoot any errors thrown up.

As happened when we tried to include Windows network shares in the indexing process, a new option on the Mini 2.0. Unfortunately this isn’t quite as easy as is claimed, calling for a lot of experimentation before we managed to get the syntax right.

But then building the indices is only half the story and once underway, users can be let loose to search for information using the familiar Google browser front-end. Moreover, the interface can be customised and branded to suit the organisation involved, with an XSLT editor provided so that developers can “Google enable” their applications and Web sites.

As with the full Internet engine, results are returned within seconds with the usual options to order the results by relevance or date. You can also configure the software to suggest synonyms to, for example, suggest searching for “Wi-Fi” or “Bluetooth” when the word “wireless” is specified. However, these only work in one direction which means you have to configure others to suggest “wireless” when “WiFi” or “Bluetooth” are entered.

Another option is keyword matching (KeyMatches in Google-speak) where searches containing specific words can be set to display associated links, highlighted at the top of the page. For example, we were able to use this to point users at our Buyers Guide pages when particular products were searched for.

Of course, all this can take a while to get set up the way you want, but it’s not too difficult, with lots of supporting documentation available on the appliance itself. You do, though, need to take some care when it comes to security. The appliance itself is locked down but the only way to stop sensitive documents being indexed, and therefore visible to searches, is to keep them behind a password-protected proxy server.

Still, that’s easy to do and overall it’s a great little product with lots going for it, not least a free Google T-shirt which, unlike the Mini, is extra large!

Company: Google

Contact: 020 8202 2388


Verdict
An affordable way for small companies to use Google search technology on their own Web sites and servers, the Google Mini 2.0 search appliance is also very easy to deploy. A much enhanced Web-based management interface is a feature if this considerably smaller new version, along with support for unlimited index collections and the ability to include Windows network shares in indexing crawls.