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Elastic Is Looking a Lot Like Google 10 Years Ago

By Tim Beyers - Jun 10, 2019 at 10:31AM

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Alphabet's once-indispensable search appliance enters retirement as Elastic's software engine offers a better way.

Ten years ago this month -- on June 2, to be precise -- the pre-Alphabet (GOOGL 2.84%)(GOOG 2.96%) version of Google launched the general availability of version 6.0 of the Google Search Appliance (GSA). Here's how Google pitched it at the time:

The idea was simple; build technology to connect as many appliances as you'd like, whether in one location or separated across departments or even across continents -- and still provide a unified set of results to the end-user -- the employee searching for an elusive document or piece of information. This would not only give our customers unparalleled ability to scale, but enable them to integrate all the data in their organizations. Information doesn't do you much good if you can't find it! That was our guiding principle. [Emphasis mine]

If this sounds like table stakes -- ("All your information in one place, wow!") -- remember we're talking about 10 years ago, which is a lifetime in the business of innovation.

A photo of Google's original yellow and black search appliance with a small tablet stood up against the side

Alphabet's now-defunct Google Search Appliance (GSA). Image source: Alphabet.

The Dr. Evil of search

What made the GSA so interesting, the 6.0 version in particular, was that it crossed a key barrier in its ability to index and optimize not just millions, but (cue upcurled pinkie and giddy laugh) billions of records. This makes sense when you think about how important digital data was in 2009 and how much more important it is today.

The difference is in how corporate Chief Information Officers handle it. Elastic (ESTC 15.11%) is a key player, offering a much more advanced and responsive version of companywide search than the GSA ever could -- because the tool and the secret sauce behind it are derived from open-source software.

Investors should also take note that Google announced three years ago that it would end production of the GSA this year and replace it with a more Google-focused product called Google Cloud Search. As the company's marketing materials put it:

Use the power of Google to search across your company's content. From Gmail and Drive to Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, and more, Google Cloud Search answers your questions and delivers relevant suggestions to help you throughout the day.

Translation: We'll make it really easy to use our stuff, so buy more of our stuff.

The magic of elasticity

This, as you might imagine, is decidedly not the way the cloud works. Companies don't just buy their own equipment or choose one public cloud provider. Modern businesses have highly dispersed tech infrastructures served by dozens or even hundreds of different vendors, and share data through the wizardry of application programming interfaces, or APIs.

Confused? APIs are like the common tongue of the internet and web-based software. Anything that exposes an API -- and pretty much everything on the web does, from Twitter to Salesforce, Shopify, and Google's various services -- can be made to extract data. Developers who write scripts or code for pulling data out through one API and then pushing it through the API of another application. In this sense, APIs are like a virtual pipeline allowing data to flow from one application to another.

APIs are the nuts and bolts that connect the world's ecosystem of internet-driven apps and make the sum of the parts greater than the whole. Once you realize that, it becomes easier to see how Elastic can be designed to search, well, anything and everything and present the results in the familiar and clickable format of a webpage.

A rendering of a browser showing results from Elastic's new Elastic Enterprise Search.

Elastic's new Elastic Enterprise Search in action. Source: Elastic NV.

The Foolish bottom line

It's still early enough in the public life of Elastic that we don't yet know how large and sustainable its growth opportunity will prove to be. The early returns suggest it's large and growing fast, with revenue growing by 69.9% over just the last fiscal year.

Call it fitting. Google's Search Appliance was a great idea that had a good 10-year run. Elastic is its natural successor. With data volumes doubling about every two years, holding Elastic stock over the next decade may prove to be every bit as profitable as it was to be a Google/Alphabet shareholder from 2009 to today.

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