The history of Exalead starts with the development of the Alta Vista web search application in 1995. An important feature of Alta Vista was the adoption of a 64-bit architecture based on the Digital Equipment Alpha chip set. This was extremely fast but was also very warm when running. (I spent a year working for DEC as a consultant in 1993 trying to find uses for the Alpha chip!) The leader of the Alta Vista team was Louis Monier, who was working at one of DECs research laboratories and he invited François Bourdoncle to join him. To cut a long story short the Alta Vista project was at first very successful but did not survive the acquisition by Compaq for very long and gradually the development of the web search engine slowed to zero by around 2010.
Exalead itself was established in 2000 by Bourdoncle and Patric Bertin. Rather like Coperic/Coveo the original intention was to develop a web search application but the challenge of Google was fairly quickly appreciated and from around 2005 the company moved its focus to developing search-based applications for internal search (under the inspirational leadership of Gregory Grefenstette) and was an early innovator in the development of cloud-based services. In 2008 Microsoft acquired FAST Search and Technology which then prompted a number of further acquisitions, such as IBM of Vivisimo, Oracle of Endeca, Isys by Lexmark and Autonomy by HP. The French software company Dassault Systems (spun off from the Dassault aviation business in 1981) joined in the acquisition frenzy in June 2010 buying Exalead for around €135 million.
Over the next decade Exalead was progressively incorporated into the 3DS search application business which currently has the vision statement of “providing business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations capable of harmonizing product, nature and life.” Although Exalead made it through to the final round of a client project of mine in 2018 the level of support coming out of Paris was becoming a concern and in effect from this time onwards Exalead ceased to exist as an independent enterprise search software application.
Now the Exalead technology is being absorbed into NetVibes, which was founded in 2005 and was acquired by Dassault Systems in 2012. Trying to describe what NetVibes offers is not easy as it seems to be a collection of specialized ‘discovery’ solutions that are largely independent of each other. One of these is Proxem, which offers AI-based text analytics software. As with BAInsight the question arises as to whether Exalead will continue to exist as a platform or be absorbed into Proxem.
Looking back at the early days of Exalead it was clearly ahead of its competitors (with the possible exception of FAST Search and Technology) in terms of its back-end architecture but it was driven by engineers who to me lost sight of issues around usability, maintenance and implementation support. If you look at all the search acquisitions over the last decade they have been made for the purposes of buying in technical expertise that can be sold on to the existing client base of the acquiring company, not for the client base of the search company and certainly not for the revenue stream. There are however still around 70 vendors to choose from. How do you choose which best meets your requirements? Start here.