Enterprise Search London – Financial applications, SBA book and Solr searching 120m documents

Another excellent evening as part of the Enterprise Search London Meetup series; very busy as usual.

Amir Dotan started us off with details of his work in designing user interfaces for the financial services sector, describing some of the challenges involved in designing for a high-pressure and highly regulated environment. Although he didn’t talk about search specifically we heard a lot about how to design useful interfaces. Two quotes stood out: “The right user interface can help make billions”, and as a way to get feedback “find someone nice in the business and never let them go”.

Gregory Grefenstette of Exalead was next, talking about his new book on Search Based Applications. He explained how SBAs have advantages over traditional databases in the three areas of agility, usability and performance and went on to show some examples, before an unfortunate combination of a broken slide deck and a failing laptop battery brought him to a halt: in retrospect a great advertisement for a physical book over a computer!

Upayavira of Sourcesense was next with details of a new search built for online news aggregator Moreover. This dealt with scaling Lucene/Solr to cope with indexing 2 million new documents a day, for a rolling 2 month index. He showed how some initial memory and performance problems had been solved with a combination of pre-warming caches, tweaks to the JVM and Java garbage collector and eventually profiling of their custom code. Particularly interesting was how they had developed a system for spinning up a complete copy of the searchable database (for load balancing purposes) on the Amazon EC2 cloud – from a standing start they can allocate servers, install software and copy across searchable indexes in around 40 minutes. This was a great demonstration of the power of the open source model – no more licenses to buy! Search performance over this large collection is pretty good as well, with faceted queries returning in a second or two and unfaceted in half a second.

We also heard from Martin White about an exciting new search related conference to be held in October this year in London in association with Information Today, Inc., and I managed a quick plug for our inaugural Cambridge Enterprise Search Meetup on Wednesday 16th February.

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