Searching for the Amazon

It’s a rare week when the good folk at Amazon done come up with something to remark upon. This week, although they are set to benefit from the partial settlement of the recent anti-trust suit filed by the government, “search” has starred in Amazon’s remarkable week.

Amazon has used search in large volumes for a good while. You are using search every time you interact with their products. A few years ago, they deployed and have continued to develop their powerful A9 search platform, and now you, too, can use A9 in the cloud for a fraction of the cost of traditional search.

I love search. It’s cool and I know a lot of people who make their bills each month with search. So I had a slight intake of breath for my friends and former colleagues when I read today that Amazon is making powerful and flexible cloud-based search available on a pay-as-you-go basis. This isn’t the Mickey Mouse search offered by the Google Appliance guys, rather this is a full-bore-in-your-face-read-em-and-weep, enterprise-level search that has traditionally been provided by the big guys and used by the elites. This kind of technology has been available to the hyper-geek crowd through open source products like Lucene or Nutch for several years, but the level of tech-pertise needed to create a functioning product from those search starter kits was far above the interest level of most users. It would be like a clothing store manufacturing their own cash registers.

Given that enterprise search is (was?) too hard to make or manage yourself, companies turned to the big players who either offer search as a separate discipline or as a component of a larger system (Microsoft, Sun, Autonomy, Oracle, SAP etc…). What Amazon has done by making powerful and readily tunable enterprise level search available in the cloud on a pay-as-you-go-basis is to potentially reduce the available client pool for the large search providers.  From what I can gather, pretty much any reasonably competent web developer can now build and manage the kind of search deployment that would have cost a Porsche to buy and an Audi to run each year for the price of a mid-sized motorbike paid on a monthly installment plan.

It’s likely to make high-quality, flexible search much more widely available, which dove tails nicely with the democratization of technology that has continued to gather steam in recent years.

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