GSA plans search engine upgrade for Advantage site

GSA plans search engine upgrade for Advantage site

Agency will install new hardware for faster online product searches in first part of four-phase revamp

By Christopher J. Driscoll

GCN Staff

As part of a four-phase face-lift of GSA Advantage, the General Services Administration will replace the online ordering site's search engine so users can get more precise results faster.

The new search engine will not be ready before January. In the meantime, during Phase 1 of the upgrade, the agency will install new hardware to speed up product searches.

The average search time will be two seconds, 'given a good connection and PC,' said Ed O'Hare, deputy chief information officer for GSA's Federal Supply Service.

To achieve that rate, GSA this month will install four Sun Microsystems Ultra Enterprise Workgroup E450 servers, each with four 350-MHz processors and 1G of RAM, to handle searches, said Al Iagnemmo, director of GSA Advantage operations and production. GSA will also install a Sun Microsystems Ultra 550, with six 350-MHz processors, 3G of RAM and a 250G hard drive, as the host for the GSA Advantage database.

The site, at www.fss.gsa.gov/cgi-bin/advwel, will also get a new, more fashionable look sometime this month, O'Hare said.

The agency has set Oct. 2 as the target date for beginning the second phase of the project, during which it will add all FSS contract items to GSA Advantage, he said. Now, the site gives users access to specific Multiple-Award Schedule contracts but not all contracts available through FSS.

GSA Advantage uses a Sybase Inc. database management system for its product and service databases. It also uses a Sybase search engine to give online shoppers a way to compare product attributes and prices.

But the agency recently bought a search engine from Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

'They call it Knowledge Organizer,' O'Hare said, 'and that's important. The concept we have is to bring this beyond a database search to a knowledge organizer. Given the kinds and volumes of data we deal with, database searches are overwhelming. You put in almost any word and you get too much stuff to look at.'

During Phase 3 late this year, GSA will implement Knowledge Organizer. The agency also will add Federal Technology Service and Federal Buildings Service products and services to the offerings.

'We call it GSA Advantage, but it really is FSS Advantage,' O'Hare said. 'It will now become a much more functional search site for all of GSA. All while keeping the two-second response time.'

O'Hare said if he does a search using the word 'security' using the Sybase search engine, the site lists 2,500 hits that have to do with security.

'After the New Year when people put in the word security, they're going to get a treelike file structure,' O'Hare said. 'It's going to say you have so many books with the word security, and you have so many computer products with the word security. It's not just going to list all 2,500 items.'

During Phase 4, which will begin sometime next year, GSA will fine-tune the search programs for the new Verity engine so that users can do searches with sentences. For example, a user would key in a sentence such as, 'I am looking for a book on security' and get back results limited to books about security.

The new advanced search engine will let users enter delimiters to remove unwanted results. For instance, GSA Advantage shoppers can type in exact phrases and search by manufacturer part number, manufacturer name or contractor name. They can limit searching to recycled items, energy-efficient items, small business items or products that meet federal requirements for year 2000 readiness.

Verity's Knowledge Organizer brokers the searches, said Ken Newcomer, Verity's director of federal sales.

It can choose to send requests to and receive information from non-Verity-indexed databases via Microsoft Component Object Model and Distributed COM, Newcomer said.

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