Google is to upgrade its Search Appliance with native support for enterprise content management (ECM) systems like EMC's Documentum, IBM's FileNet, Open Text's LiveLink and Microsoft's SharePoint.

Support for those systems will be provided via "connector" modules included with this enterprise search device's Version 5.0 software, which existing customers will be able to download for free either this week or next.

The modules were built on an open-source framework that is new in Version 5.0 and that can be used by customers and other vendors to create other native ECM connector modules for the Search Appliance. This complements existing native support for enterprise databases and applications in the Search Appliance, said Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for search in the Google Enterprise division.

With the ECM framework and modules, Google is introducing in the Search Appliance, a computer with search engine software, the concept of universal search, which refers to a search engines's ability to merge items from a broad variety of data repositories in a single results list.

The Search Appliance seems mostly used for simpler implementations focusing on a single data repository or file system, while complex projects often go to rivals like Autonomy, Fast and others, said Forrester Research analyst Matt Brown.

That said, by delivering significant enhancements in version 5.0 at no extra charge, Google boosts its strategy for attracting customers with a product that is generally easier to use and install, as well as less expensive than its competitors, Brown said.

Version 5.0 will also include security enhancements like support for Windows Integrated Authentication (WIA) and improved performance in its Security Assertion Markup Language-based API for authentication and authorisation.

In addition to the upgrade, Google also plans to launch Google Enterprise Labs, a site where the company will provide "early access" to enterprise search innovations.

The Search Appliance starts at US$30,000 for indexing up to 500,000 documents. It can index up to 30 million documents. Launched in 2002, the Search Appliance has a customer base of about 10,000 companies.

Google also sells a similar but less powerful device called Google Mini, which starts at $1,995 for 50,000 documents. The Mini tops out at 300,000 documents.