There is no free lunch

This is an “oldie but goodie” from last year around this time (February, 2010).

Some information systems consulting wisdom from Stephen Arnold in A Free Pass for Open Search Source Search? (and more proof that there is real value in specialization).

Primarily a response to Gavin Clarke’s Microsoft Drops Open Source Birthday Gift with Fast Lucidly Imaginative?, the article contains some of the best quotes I’ve seen in a long time on the subject of enterprise search (particularly surrounding Microsoft’s ongoing “development” of their FAST ESP line of products) — as well as vendor “professional services”/customer relations in general.

…most of the Fast Search & Transfer licensees bought into the “one size fits all” approach to search: facets, reports, access to structured and unstructured data, etc. As many of these licensees discovered, the cost of making Fast’s search technology deliver on the marketing PowerPoints was high.

With a couple of substitutions that last sentence really could be reused almost anywhere: “… many of these licensees discovered, the cost of making [insert vendor name here] [insert technology name here] technology deliver on the marketing PowerPoints was high.”

Fast ESP consisted, prior to the Microsoft buy out, of keyword search, semantics from a team in Germany, third-party magic from companies like Lexalytics, home brew code from Norwegian wizards, and outright acquisitions for publishing and content management functionality.

Er, so much for investing in more “professional”, proprietary, closed source, technology. That beach in Tahiti where all those guys who were bought out by Oracle retired to must be getting crowded by now — unless they’re all back in their Italian villas earning some extra cash providing contract support for their former creations.

The more prudent approach is going to be understanding what the differences among various open source search solutions are and then determining if an organization’s specific requirements match up to one of these firms’ service offerings.

Detailed specifications? Who ever heard of such a thing!

In search, some vendors sell a job and then return to headquarters to tell the programmers what they have to create.

They used to do that in Identity Management too, until Oracle bought everything. Now it’s “that’s not how Oracle works”.

The companies jumping into eDiscovery are discovering that specialist expertise is needed in order to keep corporate attorneys happy. Generalists run aground in special purpose search situations.

Generalists run aground all the time. But they’re very economical.

…there is no valid way to simplify the complexity of information retrieval.

Especially if it’s written in Java.

One helpful step is to narrow the procurement to specific requirements and then running bake offs to determine which system delivers for the client.

Actually compare products in a running environment? Unheard of!

… there is no free lunch for search and there is no free pass for vendors whether delivering open source or proprietary findability solutions.

You pay either way. The difference is only who you pay: the vendor, or your own people. “Investing” in the vendor is risky because when the time comes they may not be motivated enough to retain the knowledge you paid them to develop. Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll be smart enough to make a better decision when it comes to retaining your own resources. But at least that will be your choice.