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Enterprise Search Explained

While the name is a bit misleading, enterprise search systems are used by small and mid-size businesses as well as enterprises. Enterprise search systems typically do not search the public Internet, but rather only what is contained within the firewall on the organization's own private corporate network.

What Is Enterprise Search?

Enterprise search is an extensive search system that provides the means to search both structured and unstructured data sources with a single query. It addresses businesses that need to store, retrieve and track digital information of all kinds. Data sources in enterprise search systems include information stored in many different containers such as e-mail servers, desktops, messaging, enterprise application databases, content management systems, file systems, intranet sites and external Web sites. Enterprise search systems provide users with fast query times and search results that are usually ranked in such a way that the information you need is easily accessible. 

Internet and Enterprise Search — What's The Difference?

Most people are familiar with search solutions in the form of Internet search engines, which are used to search and catalog as many public documents as possible on the World Wide Web. Enterprise search systems differ from Internet search systems in that they typically do not search the public Internet, but rather only what is contained within the firewall on the organization's own private corporate network. Internet search systems do not usually catalog information stored behind firewalls, or information in databases or on privately controlled Web pages and servers.

These two types of search engines are also different in terms of how they work. The actual search algorithms for returning search results that are used by Internet search systems, for example, do not necessarily work well for enterprise search. On the World Wide Web documents commonly use hyperlinks between relevant documents. The number of hyperlinks to a specific Web page is something some Internet search engines use when ranking search results. In a business, however, hyperlinking corporate information is not a common practice.

The Security Benefits

Enterprise search products and services are also designed to provide security. While your search system is able to store and retrieve large corporate repositories, you don't want all employees to have access to all the information at any time. Enterprise search provides the necessary security controls to prevent employees without the correct authorization from accessing specific types of information. Usually enterprise search systems will offer several levels of controls for enforcing security. Typically, you would expect different groups of users to be given access to one or more defined security levels, and administrators access to most or all levels.

One of the more common types of enterprise search security is performed at the document-level. Here security controls are places on the document itself. Depending on user access, some may not see documents that other users with a different access level would in the search results. In some systems users without access to a particular document may only see a result returned by title but not be able to view the actual document itself. This security control is set through what is called an Access Control List (ACL). The ACL stores the information about user access and which users have access to the specific document. Another type of security level is called subdocument, which is more complex than document-level security. Here security is set by defined fields within a document. This means portions of a document may not be visible to some users.

Why Enterprise Search?

For the most part, the need for enterprise search has been driven by productivity and resource needs. When employees cannot locate specific information that they may need, the search for it can be a time-consuming task. Resources can also be taxed as often times, once the information is finally located, it is recreated and resaved in a different location using more resources. Over the past year legal issues have become a major a driving force behind adoption of enterprise search as the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure now requires companies to both retain and locate electronic information for inspection, sanctions and subpoenas.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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