By Sean O'Malley
Finding just the right hit out of Ohio University's 183,477 Web pages and online documents is much easier this fall. At the start of this quarter, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) replaced the university's Thunderstone search engine with a Google search appliance.
The move is among several steps OIT took over the summer to give the university's Web site a much-needed performance boost. Other improvements came with the installation of four new servers and the upgrade of the CommonSpot authoring tool to an easier-to-use, more capable version.
"Faster performance, better searches and easier authoring all are part of our overall plan to build a Web environment that will serve the university's future needs," OIT Web services Director Jay Beam said.
How it works
The dedicated search system uses Google's proprietary search algorithms to index all of the university's Web pages and provide fast, relevant search results. When a visitor types a word or phrase into the front door's "Search" box and hits "Find," the Google appliance provides a list of the most likely hits and suggests ways to refine the search for better results.
Along with indexing pages automatically, the appliance can be programmed to prioritize results based on what would be most relevant to a typical front door visitor. For example, home pages for colleges will appear at the top of the list for keywords related to those disciplines.
To increase awareness of the new tool, the OIT staff decided to display the Google logo in the new search box.
"We could have left the logo out," Beam said, "but we wanted to make sure people knew that things had changed."
A smoother start
Meanwhile, the installation of four new servers already has paid off, with the university's Web site easily handling the increased demand of fall opening.
"The kind of load we saw during the first week would have killed us in the past," Beam said. "This year, the system is handling peak loads in stride."
The front door's server environment went from a single virtual machine with two central processing units (CPUs) to three dedicated, physical servers with eight CPUs each, in effect increasing capacity 12-fold.
The new servers share the load and can take over for each other on the fly if one goes down. This not only provides better reliability, Beam said, but also permits OIT to perform maintenance without needing to schedule down time.
Web authoring made easier
On the authoring side, OIT installed a separate, dedicated server for exclusive use by page authors and upgraded CommonSpot at the same time. The new version of CommonSpot is noticeably faster; includes an easier-to-use, cleaner authoring interface; and can support features such as automated RSS feeds and cascading style sheets.
"We've received lots of positive feedback from page authors and webmasters about the new version," Beam said.
As with any major system upgrade, he noted that minor bugs may turn up from time to time. Individuals should report any problems to the OIT Service Desk at 740-593-1222.