Oracle is a giant in information technology. The company has expanded light years beyond its original database product, and is one of the key providers of infrastructure for business applications and Internet services. Oracle has executed a steady stream of strategic acquisitions over its corporate history and has acquired a large number of companies, including other giants like PeopleSoft (January 2005), Sun Microsystems (January 2010), and dozens of others. Oracle does not produce products specifically for libraries, though libraries, like any organization dependent on technology, rely on hardware and software components for their core technology infrastructure.
In October 2011, Oracle extended its reach again, with the acquisition of Endeca Technologies, a company whose technology many libraries use for their discovery interfaces. Endeca, based in Cambridge, MA, had developed technologies used by major retail companies to power their Web sites, including catalog and e-commerce capabilities. Its core MDEX Engine can accommodate a very flexible array of data types, providing the core infrastructure for higher-level discovery and e-commerce applications. The Boston Business Journal reported that Oracle purchased Endeca for around $1.1 billion.
In May 2006, Endeca Technologies was awarded a U.S. patent for its Guided Navigation experience, or more technically, a “hierarchical data-driven navigation system and method for information retrieval” (US Patent No. 7,035,864). It's important to note that patents represent a very important component of the assets gained when acquiring a company. This patent covers the basic concept of faceted browsing which currently stands as one of the principal navigation techniques in library discovery interfaces.
Endeca: e-Retail Software for Library Discovery
Beginning in about 2004, libraries began to explore technologies and products to replace their legacy online catalogs with more modern alternatives. Many libraries saw Endeca's Information Access Platform— previously called ProFind—as well-suited to this need. It offered the capability to ingest MARC records, deliver relevancy ranked result sets, display facets to help users hone in on desired results, and other features needed to create an experience for library collections consistent with other Web destinations. Endeca did not, however, create a library-specific product. Rather, it offered a development platform that library programmers could use to construct an interface with these characteristics. The company references customers including the top names of the retail industry, including WalMart, Home Depot, Sephora, Office Depot, Eddie Bauer, and Walgreens.
With its sights set on a very broad market, Endeca addresses libraries as a rather small niche among the many different types of organizations that make use of its technologies. The Library Corporation entered into an agreement with Endeca to distribute its products to libraries. This was announced in June 2004. A number of libraries, including the Phoenix Public Library and Chicago Public Library, acquired the Endeca technology through TLC as the basis for their new online catalogs. Although acquired through TLC, the development needed to craft and implement the interface was accomplished by the libraries. TLC also offered AquaBrowser, which was a more out-of-the-box product as a library discovery solution. In recent years, TLC has backed away from direct involvement with both Endeca and AquaBrowser, instead focusing on the development of its own LS2 PAC as its new generation patron interface platform. In the academic library arena, North Carolina State University purchased the Endeca platform as the basis for their new online catalog, which they introduced in January 2006. Other academic libraries implementing Endeca-based catalogs included McMaster University, Florida Center for Library Automation, the University of Ottawa, Queen Mary University of London, and the University of Technology, Sydney. Though adopted by some very large and progressive libraries, Endeca has remained within a relatively small clique of libraries implementing new-generation discovery interfaces.
While some libraries continue to use interfaces based on Endeca technologies, the momentum for new adoption of this technology seems to have halted altogether. Many libraries that had once created interfaces based on this platform have phased them out, most often in favor of projects or products based on Apache SOLR or Lucene. Some of these migrations include the Florida Center for Library Automation, which provides automation services to all of the libraries of the public universities in Florida. FCLA has recently re-implemented its Mango catalog, moving it from Endeca to Lucene. FCLA maintains separate instances of an Aleph ILS for each campus; Mango provides a unified patron interface spanning all the campuses. McMaster University shifted from its Endeca-based catalog to VuFind in 2011. North Carolina State University, one of the first libraries to implement an Endeca-based online catalog, now subscribes to Serials Solutions Summon discovery service, as does the University of Toronto.
Given the waning involvement of Endeca technologies in libraries, ownership by Oracle will not have a major impact in any broad sense. For the libraries currently using Endeca technologies, there should likewise be minimal disruption. The Endeca IAP and eCommerce platforms represent the key assets of the company. Given the basic scenario where the library builds its own services and interfaces on top of the Endeca platforms, the support arrangement differs considerably from that of an off-the-shelf product. These libraries tend to be more self-sufficient in the support of their operational systems, depending on Endeca's support only for questions and issues related to programming and development.
The position of Endeca relative to its acquisition by Oracle affects only a handful of libraries. The broader trend to note is the rise of discovery products based on Apache SOLR or Lucene. Because they are open source projects, libraries can make use of the Apache components without direct licensing costs.
Endeca, on the other hand, comes with significant licensing fees. As much as the cost, a great deal of library-specific code and expertise has been cultivated. Open source projects based on Apache SOLR include VuFind and Blacklight, as is the platform for HathiTrust. Commercial products using SOLR or Lucene include Serials Solutions Summon and Primo and Primo Central from Ex Libris. SirsiDynix recently shifted its search engine underpinnings for its Enterprise discovery interface from GlobalBrain to SOLR.