Microsoft Enterprise Search Goes Deep and Wide

LAS VEGAS – Feb. 10, 2009 – Twenty years ago, enterprise search meant sifting through office filing cabinets to try to find the desired document. Nowadays, increased competition and a challenging economic climate require that businesses be able to locate an electronic version of a document or pinpoint a vital piece of business information in an instant. Imperatives like these help explain why industry analysts forecast continued strong demand for enterprise search solutions.

Since Microsoft completed its acquisition of enterprise search developer FAST Search & Transfer last April, the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server team has been working closely with colleagues at FAST to bring together the companies’ respective search technologies. The result combines FAST’s deep search expertise with the widely used platform technology of SharePoint Server. …

Today at FASTforward’09 in Las Vegas, Microsoft provided a glimpse into the fruits of their efforts: FAST Search for SharePoint, a new search server that will add the high-end search capabilities of FAST ESP to SharePoint. FAST Search for SharePoint will be available with the release of the next version of Microsoft Office. The solution will equip businesses with high-end search capabilities that will enhance their efficiency and boost productivity.

As a part of the road map disclosure at FASTforward’09, Microsoft also announced ESP for SharePoint, a special offer available for SharePoint Enterprise Client Access License customers. With ESP for SharePoint, these customers can purchase FAST’s high-end search capabilities today with a defined licensing path to FAST Search for SharePoint when it’s released.

Taking Enterprise Search to the Next Level

Arun Krishnamoorthy, Senior Software Development Lead, Microsoft

“Enterprise search is becoming a critical tool for organizations to manage information within their firewalls and improve their bottom line,” says Microsoft Senior Software Development Lead Arun Krishnamoorthy. “FAST’s in-depth search and filtering solutions are used by customers in media, communications, financial services and the life sciences to glean insight from internal data, drive revenue and reduce costs.”

Krishnamoorthy points to capabilities such as sophisticated filtering that can help employees refine a search and find what or who they’re looking for more efficiently, based on parameters such as an area of expertise or job title.

New features from FAST give Microsoft’s Enterprise Search strategy a boost by adding in-depth search capabilities to the widely used content management, portal, collaboration and business intelligence tools in SharePoint Server. As a result, more companies will be able to benefit from FAST’s expertise in accessing information and tapping into its potential.

“By combining FAST’s innovative technology with SharePoint, Microsoft aims to help more people harness the power of their information, and make enterprise search technology more affordable for businesses,” Krishnamoorthy says.

Getting On the Same Page

Microsoft and FAST kicked off their integration last spring with a meeting between senior executives in Redmond, Wash., where they outlined the product and discussed individual features. Since then, developers have focused on bringing the two technologies together, led by Krishnamoorthy in Redmond and FAST Senior Software Development Lead Kjartan Mikkelsen in Oslo.

Once they began collaborating, the two teams quickly realized that several of their product features were highly complementary. Mikkelsen recalls his initial meeting in Oslo with the Microsoft SharePoint Search Developer team as the first time everyone saw the potential of integrating SharePoint with FAST.

“We had this room full of developers drawing on whiteboards,” Mikkelsen says. “In the midst of it all we realized that everyone, more or less, was saying the same thing. There was this collective feeling that we were doing some good work right from the start, and an understanding that we each had pieces of software that worked very well together.”

Two months later, the teams continued their design discussions in Redmond, where they also built prototypes of the features they discussed. Today many of those prototypes have been transformed into the features that are part of ESP for SharePoint and FAST Search for SharePoint.

Better Together

The meetings in Oslo and Redmond were the first of several monthly face-to-face sessions. Developers also stay connected via e-mail and weekly conference calls. According to Krishnamoorthy, the close collaboration between the teams and the products’ complementary capabilities made bringing the technologies together smooth and straightforward.

Kjartan Mikkelsen, Senior Software Development Lead, FAST Search & Transfer

The Microsoft team focuses on developing applications for SharePoint, infrastructure for customers to create their own search applications, and features such as connectors that tie the SharePoint Search Engine to a company’s many information repositories, Krishnamoorthy says. “FAST excels at developing high-end search features that run on the back end,” he adds. “Together we provide powerful search capabilities that customers can take advantage of right out of the box.”

Krishnamoorthy points to the extensible user interface in SharePoint and FAST’s support for generating deep refinement data from the index as examples of how bringing the two products together enabled greater innovation and an increased ability to refine search results. “When you connect SharePoint Search to FAST, you immediately gain access to high-end navigation features such as the ability to extract documents containing specific entities — for example, a particular company, city or country — and the extended refinement counts over the entire index. Moreover, you can do these things directly from the refinement Web part in SharePoint Search.”

FAST adds a rich layer to the notion of entities with “matchers,” a feature that recognizes and highlights a company or city’s name in the text of a document. When a user hovers over the highlighted name, FAST can provide the stock price, related news and other relevant information.

In a Jan. 2008 post to her Forrester blog for Information & Knowledge Management Professionals, Leslie Owens wrote: “Microsoft is now in a strong position to offer a full menu of search products. This acquisition is another linchpin in Microsoft’s enterprise workplace strategy — FAST fills a big hole for enterprise-scale information discovery and it further builds SharePoint’s momentum for content management and collaboration.”

Mikkelsen is equally bullish about the combined potential of the two products: “Developers have different experiences and come from different places,” he notes. ”But when it comes to developing code, we all speak the same language. It’s natural to talk about how we’re going to develop search, and integrating FAST Search and SharePoint has been a very good fit from the start.”

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