The four types of open source search project

As I’m currently writing content for our new Flax website (which is taking far longer than anticipated for various reasons I won’t bore you with) I’ve been thinking about the sort of projects we encounter at Flax. You might find this useful if you’re planning or starting a search project with Solr or Elasticsearch. Note that not everything we do fits cleanly into these four categories!

The search idea

So you’ve got this idea and you’re convinced that you need search as part of the puzzle, but you’re not sure where it fits, whether it will be performant or how to gather and transform your data so it’s ready for searching. Perhaps you’re from a startup, or maybe part of a skunkworks projects in a larger organisation. What you need is someone who really understands search software and what can be done with it to sit with you for a day or two, validate your technical choices, help you understand how to shape your data, even play with some basic indexing.

The proof of concept

You’re a little further along – you know what technology you’ll be using and you have some data all ready for indexing. However, before your funders or boss will release more budget you need to build something they can see (and search) – you’ll need an indexer and a basic search application. You could do it yourself but time is limited and you’ve not built a search application before. You’re expecting to spend a week or two developing something to show others, that lets them search real data and see real results. You might also want to experiment with scale – see what happens to performance when you add a few million items to the index, even if the schema isn’t quite right yet.

The big one

You’re building the big one – indexing complex data or many millions of items, and/or for a huge user base. You need to be very sure your indexing pipeline is fast, scales well, copes with updates and can transform data from many sources. You need to develop the very best search schema. Your search architecture must be resilient, cope with heavy load, failover cleanly and give the correct results. You’re assembling a team to build it but you need specialist help from people who have built this kind of system at scale before.

The migration

Finally you’ve secured budget to move away from the slow and innacurate search engine that everyone hates! Search really does suck, but you now have a chance to make it better. However, although you know how to keep the old engine running you don’t have much experience of open source search. Even though the old engine isn’t great, you’re doing a lot of business with it and you want to be confident that relevance is as good (and hopefully better) with the new engine – maybe you want to develop a testing framework?

We’re also increasingly delivering training (both for business users who want to know the capabilities of open source search and for technical users who want to improve their knowledge – we can tailor this to your requirements) and ongoing support – but everything starts with a search project of some kind!

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