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Microsoft has turned to Autonomy to inject structured and unstructured search capabilities into its SharePoint collaboration platform for large, mixed deployments.

The partnership will enable users of SharePoint to search and return results securely from more than 300 structured, relational, XML, video and voice sources inside and - importantly - outside the Microsoft world. Autonomy spans SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Lotus Notes, in addition to Microsoft.

Autonomy has exposed its Intelligent Data Operating Layer (IDOL) through SharePoint's Web Parts, modules of code that combine server-side applications and processes and pull data into the interface for actions such as generating charts from different information sources.

The deal potentially reduces the cost and effort usually involved with extending SharePoint to non-Microsoft systems, as users would typically need to customize and maintain their own connectors to non-Microsoft systems using IFilters.

"You have to have a fairly technical person to build [IFilters]," Autonomy's chief marketing officer Nicole Eagan said. "Autonomy has 300, out-of-the box connectors that can be implemented and deployed without custom code... we build and maintain the different versions of the connectors."

Support for IDOL promises quite a step forward in SharePoint's ability to scale and in the sophistication of its search. It also serves as a sober reminder of the limitations of Microsoft's own search, which we were promised - prior to Windows Vista - would scale from the desktop to the enterprise and the internet.

IDOL delivers 500 advanced features such as automatic hyper linking and categorization or search results and profiling of relevant people, with support for more than 1,000 file formats including PDF and blogs. IDOL supports multiple security and encryption types, and can mandate access not just to documents but sections of specific content within documents.

In packing in these capabilities, and with an enterprise-wide price tag of $380,000, Autonomy is targeting large government and enterprise accounts. Autonomy claims one SharePoint customer is providing access to 15Tb of data for 20,000 users.

"With SharePoint you can store and access that amount of information, but when you are looking at performance and throughput, that's where Autonomy comes in," Eagan said. ®

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