Microsoft moves in on enterprise search

Microsoft moves in on enterprise search

Microsoft's enteprise search plans lay down challenge to Google and IBM

Microsoft is to offer free and paid-for products in a move that is likely to help nudge enterprise search programs away from being the dominion of premium providers such as Autonomy and FAST and instead become mainstream corporate tools.

Microsoft will today post beta versions of its Search Server 2008 software and is aiming for general availability of full products in the first half of 2008. One version will command a yet-to-be announced fee, even for buyers on licensing agreements, but the other Express version will be free. Further out, in the next version of Office, Microsoft plans to add high-end search and content management capabilities.

The releases are intended to make searching for information, people and skills easier through tools that can be quickly configured, said Rob Gray, Microsoft SharePoint product manager.

“Searching the internet can be like searching for a needle in a haystack but enterprise search is like searching for one [specific] needle in a haystack full of needles,” Gray said.

“In internet search, you want people to find information and you have people to do search engine optimisation and tag content, whereas in the enterprise you might not want certain people to find certain content at a certain time, and people aren’t commercially incentivised. We feel enterprise search is still in its infancy but people have started questioning why they’re paying [large sums] for these products.”

Microsoft will use capabilities from Site Server for its search tools and will support the OpenSearch format for federated search to aggregate results from several internet search engines, as well as searching internal intranets and file systems. A dedicated server is not required but systems must be running Windows and either SQL Server or its free Express sibling.

The effort will take Microsoft up against Google’s Search Appliance and Mini, both of which wrap Google search software in a dedicated server. Another key competitor will be IBM, which last year began offering a free version of its OmniFind search software, in partnership with Yahoo, that limits the number of documents that can be searched.

Like IBM, Microsoft plans to focus on software but will remain open to hardware vendors that want to create appliances based on its program. Microsoft said that if customers want on-demand pricing it will react, but it has no current plans.

Ovum analyst Mike Davis predicted Microsoft will cause “disruptive” change to the market.

“It’s going to be a very powerful proposition and it’s going to lay down a challenge to IBM and Google,” he said. “This knocks the bottom out of the appliance model. It’s a full-function product and, whereas 20 years ago nobody got fired for buying IBM, today nobody gets fired for buying Microsoft.”

The move comes as analyst firm CMS Watch said enterprise search delivered by the software-as-a-service model is not breaking the grip of traditional deployments. Pioneers such as Blossom and Pico “have remained relatively obscure”, the group said.