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Experience Management

Meet a Google Search Appliance Architect: Chris Cook

Chris Cook joined our Google practice as a Solution Architect in 2013, arriving with over 25 years of IT experience, including technology deployments, network and security systems, and enterprise search solutions.  Chris has architected and deployed some of our largest and most complex Google Search Appliance implementations, including an aggressive project that indexed a multi-million document SharePoint repository and launched to over 100,000 employees in less than 6 weeks, start to finish.  Chris spoke with me recently about his experience as GSA Technical Architect at Perficient.

How long have you been working with the Google Search Appliance? Do you remember your first project? What was it?

I started working with the GSA about 7 ½ years ago in March of 2008. Version 5.0 was hot off the presses.                                                                                  

How can I ever forget my first project! Fresh out of GSA training, I was sent to install and setup a single GSA at an investment management firm in Boston. I was excited. After all, I was armed with all my training materials and a head full of fresh memories of the multi-day class. What could possibly go wrong???

Upon arrival at the client, I was escorted into a large conference room where I was able to unpack my laptop and get setup for the day. After a few minutes, the door opened and in walked about a dozen people (many were company execs) who all sat down and prepared for a meeting where, unbeknownst to me, I was the guest of honor. The questions came fast and furious, but only a few of them were softballs. Most were the kinds of questions that could only be answered by someone who had done this a few times before. By the end of the meeting it was clear to everyone in the room that I was a bit “green” when it came to the yellow search box.

Gathering my notes from the meeting (feeling somewhat overwhelmed) I remembered that although I was new at this, I still had the benefit of GSA training plus there was a team of support resources at my disposal that can provide guidance in performing a successful deployment.

It became clear to me that enterprise search is like an ocean and the GSA is like a ship. It will keep you afloat easily enough, but you really need to know how to navigate the waters in order to find the destination without getting lost at sea.

Can you tell us about your current project? What kind of application are you building, and what technologies are involved?

My current project is with a well-known Insurance company. We developed proxy applications to interface with the GSA for search queries, serve suggestions and authorize users from the cloud. Now search developers can easily integrate search into their site or application. They only need to learn a small sub-set of the GSA search protocol. The GSA admin can control the default behavior for each search client application to provide the desired search experience. 

We installed connectors that Perficient build for IBM Connections and Salesforce. In addition, we developed a custom search connector for OrchestraCMS based on our own very popular Salesforce connector.

In this deployment, the GSA is not directly exposed to users, the search applications are deployed in the Salesforce cloud and call back to the GSA at the client’s data center through a series of load balancers and proxy servers. The GSA is simply used as a web service and returns JSON in response to search queries.

What skills or experience, other than the GSA, have you found useful when implementing Enterprise Search projects?

Almost everything! Implementing a GSA from start to finish involves several interactions with many types of people at every level in the business. Starting as an SE, I use my skills and experience from past implementations and GSA training to field technical questions about the GSA. I use my verbal skills to speak clearly and succinctly so I can be understood by all in the audience. I must tune my answers to the level of understanding of the person asking the question. For example, a content owner in the business may not want to know the technical details of how the connector works at a low level, but the network and security admins will want them all. I use writing skills to communicate through emails and produce deployment plans, documentation and user guides. I use my skills and experience with various software programs for creating documents, spreadsheets and architecture diagrams. I use my experience as a systems and network administrator to architect complex deployment diagrams involving failover, disaster recovery planning, firewalls, load balancers, etc.

Do you have advice you would give to someone about to implement an Enterprise Search project with the GSA?

Don’t panic! There are very few situations in which you can’t recover. If you have a problem, chances are someone else has seen it too and can offer some advice on how to resolve. Remember there are plenty of resources online and Google support is always there if you get stuck.

Also, plan your installation carefully. Create a diagram of the entire search architecture and identify all the communications between systems, port numbers, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just boxes and lines to visualize and easily see if anything is missing. Know what resources you will need ahead of time and plan accordingly. Often there is a lead time to procure network resources such as IP addresses and firewall changes, virtual machines, extra memory, CPU or disk. Know how many, how much and how often for everything in your deployment because you will be asked.

Thanks, Chris!  It’s a pleasure to have you on our team!  -Chad

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Chad Johnson

Chad is a Principal of Search and Knowledge Discovery at Perficient. He was previously the Director of Perficient's national Google for Work practice.

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