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Google Mini Search Appliance review: Google Mini Search Appliance

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The Good Easy to set up; reasonably priced; crawls many common file types; highly customizable.

The Bad Awkwardly situated configuration port; pricey upgrade path.

The Bottom Line An easy-to-use search appliance aimed at small to medium-size businesses, the Google Mini is a capable and flexible tool for building custom search engines.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Google Mini

The Google Mini lets you set up a custom search engine in minutes, allowing you to index and search up to 100,000 documents in more than 220 different file formats, including HTML, PDF, and Microsoft Office file types. We definitely recommend the Google Mini if you need an easy-to-use way of indexing and searching a relatively small collection of Web pages. It's almost trivial to set it up and get started, much easier than having to set up your own separate hardware and search software. The hardware is simple enough: a bright blue 1U-height rack-mount box with a big Google logo painted on top. Connect a network cable (included) and the power cord, then wait for the happy tone that tells you it has finished booting up. There's no separate power switch--once you've plugged it into a wall outlet, it begins the boot-up process. At this point you have to do the network configuration. That means giving the Mini its IP address for your network, telling it what e-mail server to use when it sends out status alerts and such. To do this, you must plug a laptop into the Mini or haul the unit over to a desktop.

There are two RJ-45 ports in the back of the Mini--a network port that connects it to your regular network and a configuration port designed specifically for the initial configuration tasks. Google provides a special crossover cable that lets you plug your laptop into that configuration port, and the company has thoughtfully put a tag on that cable telling you what the config IP address is. You simply fire up a browser on the laptop and point it at the Mini's config IP address. At this point, your Mini needs to be told how to use the network port--what IP address it should be, what DNS machines to query, what SMTP server to use, and so on. The Mini's administration console is essentially a series of Web forms where you enter this information.

The Google Mini can obtain some of the needed configuration info from your network's DHCP server. However, you will need to give the Mini a static IP address (provided by your network admin) and a SMTP server address, which isn't delivered via DHCP.

Test functions built into the admin console help you confirm whether you've input valid addresses and names. We may have been a bit lucky, but the time from the moment we first plugged in our Mini to the time the initial configuration was finished was about 30 minutes. Our one complaint is that the configuration port is in the back. In theory, you'll probably never need to change the network configuration, but we would like to see a configuration port in the front just in case. Depending on your rack space, it could be a little complicated to get a laptop reconnected to that rear configuration port.

Once you've configured the network, you can unplug the laptop and perform the actual search configuration from any browser on your network. The simplest configuration is to just specify a name for your collection, give it an initial URL where it should begin the crawl, then accept all of the other default parameters. If you go that route, you could have it beginning the crawl within a few minutes.

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