The Google Search Appliance was purchased in 2008 and served the University well during that time. As part of a review of search options on campus, we evaluated 3 different options:

Replace the Google Search Appliance

This option would require replacing the current hardware and licensing it for 2-3 years. After that time, we would need to replace the hardware once again. The costs for this option would be approximately $100,000 every 2 years. The Google Search Appliance also has limited distribution of service management and theming the search results. This option does have the advantage that ITS has experience managing the search appliances already and minimal transition would be needed for customers.

Switch to Google Site Search

The Google Site Search is a cloud hosted solution similar to the Google Search Appliance. Cost is based on number of searches performed against the service. Based on the searches against the Google Search Appliance, the estimated costs would be $50,000/year, with the possibility of increased costs if usage increases. Google also provides limited support for this service.

Advantages to the Google Site Search include getting the most up to date search indexing from the Google main search index. It also offers the ability to fully customize the search results pages and distribute management of the search results easily, as well as an extensive API that developers can tie into.

Switch to Google Custom Search Engine

The Google Custom Search Engine is a cloud hosted solution, the free version of the Google Site Search, normally ad supported but with the option to remove ads for non-profits, including the University. Being a free service from Google, the primary risk is that the service could be canceled at any time and there is no official support from Google.

The advantages to the Google Custom Search Engine is that it uses the same index as the Google main search index and replaces all of the currently used functionality of the Google Search Appliances. Service management can also be distributed to multiple uses and the search results can be customized easily.

Based on these evaluations and surveying the landscape across the CIC, ITS has decided to switch to the Google Custom Search Engine.


A replacement for search.uiowa.edu implementing the Google Custom Search Engine has been developed and tested. Search forms using search.uiowa.edu will continue to work as they do now with the search results now using a design similar to the new University of Iowa home page. Site owners do not need to make any changes to have their search forms keep working.

Sites using the XML results from the Google Search Appliances will no longer work after the change as the Google Custom Search Engine does not return the XML result. The most common use case for the XML results is the Google Search Appliance Drupal module. For this use case, we are recommending either switching to a standard form that uses search.uiowa.edu or migrating to the Google Custom Search Engine module.


Questions or concerns can be sent to its-web@uiowa.edu for follow up.

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Last updated: 
May 19, 2016