One on One with Eric Gries of Lucid Imagination
Eric Gries, is president and CEO at Lucid Imagination. He has more than 20 years of experience in executive leadership roles, mostly with technology companies. We asked him about the challenges facing an enterprise search firm in the open source space.
FCM: Why do you think there was a need for a company like Lucid Imagination to back an open source product like Lucene Solr?
EG: The volume of information companies need to tame is huge, and it's growing bigger and more diverse. Getting actionable information in a timely fashion from large volumes of mixed data is really impossible without search. But proprietary search offerings were either too costly or not flexible enough to meet the customization necessary for companies to put search to work to take advantage. Companies have increasingly been turning to the innovation and flexibility of open source Solr/Lucene.
And now that search has become business critical, it raises the bar on the open source technology, be it the stability of the software, expertise, or timely and stable releases. That's where we come in. We help companies reach business value more quickly and with less risk than if they were relying on open source software alone. Plus they get functional complements to ensure the software scales economically in the fast pace of stringent, business critical requirements.
FCM: What prompted you to develop Lucid Works Enterprise?
EG: Let's face it, search is not a simple problem. It's our aim to make it simpler to get started, and more reliable as it changes and grows. Many developers find the complexity of search daunting. LucidWorks Enterprise helps slash the learning curve with smart defaults and well-specified client APIs, so more people can take advantage of the underlying power of open source enterprise search.
For example, the integrated client libraries span a range of development environments--dot-net, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Rest APIs, etc.--that will be familiar to a broader range of developers. We've also built on our search expertise and experience to add some new things in search that would be hard for people to do themselves, all of which makes it much less complex to build a customized search application, while at the same time creating a pricing model that is flexible enough to work in today's world.
FCM: How do you compete with so many enterprise search vendors out there?
EG: The conventional wisdom is "It's open source, it's free, that's the competitive advantage". And true, "free" can be pretty compelling. But that's not all there is to it. Getting "free" to be useful means getting the flexibility to adapt, and to scale economically. Scaling economically is an absolute necessity given that ongoing growth in the volume of data means search applications must grow and change to keep up. Many search technologies assume that search is a black-box problem; but if you need good results more than half the time, that model just doesn't work. Search results are unique to each business and its set of users and data, so one size will not fit all, and the flexibility is really the key. And because Solr/Lucene is such good software, when you combine the transparency of open source with the reliable commercial-grade foundations business-critical software requires, it becomes a very powerful way to solve a complex problem, in a way that affords companies unique competitive advantage for the long run.
Also, for many search vendors, more data means more per-document fees, per-user fees or per-query fees. We don't believe in that model, because it penalizes growth. Since we charge by the server, customers benefit as the technology improves, whether through faster machines or improvements to the open source code. Simply put, we allow companies to scale enterprise search implementations without having to worry about costly licensing fees.
FCM: Do you think your job is easier or harder because you're supporting an open source product?
EG: Open source has some terrific "free-range" qualities, and it's often just better software because it's produced in a more pragmatic fashion. Having seen how software is developed in big companies, there are more positive similarities than you might expect. Sometimes the pace of innovation is too fast, and sometimes too slow. In open source, that's externalized, and more transparent, so in some ways it's more unforgiving. In the end, though, we see it as a huge advantage. It makes for more innovative software, with a broader base of use cases, where the engineers are not beholden to a company agenda, just driven by technology.
FCM: What is your relationship to the Lucene Solr project and how closely affiliated are you with the development community as a whole?
EG: We have a large set of Apache Lucene Project Management Committee (PMC) members on staff at the company. Given the meritocratic process that drives open source software engineering, it puts some world class talent together for real critical mass. Our commitment--and our self interest--is in helping make the community project prosper. That's the raw material from which search technology can be constantly refined to help companies get better results from their business critical search applications. As a matter of principle, we are constantly committing back code written on our nickel to the Solr community. Last, but not least, we recognize that what drives the success in the software is the scale and strength of the community; we work hard to enable that community with knowledge, resources and opportunity. The more vibrant, diverse and innovative the community is, the better off we all are.
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