IBM acquires Vivisimo

The search business changes again. After HP/Autonomy, Oracle/Endeca and Lexmark/Isys-Search comes IBM/Vivisimo.  Vivisimo has been a bit of a slow burner, starting off in 2000 as a sort of search portal federating search results from other search applications and then using proprietary clustering algorithms developed at Carnegie-Mellon University to make sense of the results. Over the last five years or so it has strengthened its core search capabilities and is now a very good general purpose enterprise search platform.  IBM is a very acquisitive company and over the last few years has acquired a number of companies in the search sector, notably iPhrase in 2005.  At the same time it has moved Omnifind from a proprietary application into one based (loosely) on the open-source Lucene engine.  Overall IBM has a very confused and confusing approach to enterprise search though in areas like scalability it brings all its engineering expertise to bear to good effect.

The IBM business case for the purchase of Vivisimo is based on its ability to support Big Data analysis, but my guess is that this is not all the story.  IBM has seen its major competitors make significant acquisitions in leading-edge search applications and probably decided now was the time to go hunting.  IBM have certainly bought well, but the technology they have bought will be just as useful, if not more so, in the ‘text’ sector as in the Big Data sector.  The one guaranteed outcome of an IBM acquisition is that names vanish, and this will certainly happen to Vivisimo in very short order. Hopefully the core suite of applications will be fairly easily available (both technically and on sensible license terms) to non-IBM customers. If this is not so then we will have lost a very promising search application, especially in federated search.  The other challenge is to convince the Vivisimo team to stay around once they find out what life can be like inside corporate IBM.

These recent acquisitions are good news for the search business overall. Companies like IBM think carefully about what they acquire even if the particular acquisition may have been fast-tracked once other companies vanished from the deck. I think it shows that enterprise clients of IBM, Oracle and HP are looking for a good search experience from the viewpoint of users, administrators and IT developers, and until the recent acquisitions the level of search awareness and competence inside these large IT vendors was not especially brilliant. Perhaps now IBM sales people will  go on a search course and understand just a little more about what they are selling.  It will be interesting to see if the Vivisimo blog survives. The quality was excellent but although the list of blog entries gave the name of the blogger the name then vanished when you went to the full entry!

Martin White