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Microsoft promises to slash cost of 'high-end' search

FAST and SharePoint enterprise roadmap outlined

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Microsoft has promised to make enterprise search cost effective under a roadmap outlined today, having splashed out $1.3bn on FAST Search and Transfer a year ago.

The company's roadmap will see high-end search from FAST integrated with its SharePoint family, covering portal, content management, and business information.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, general manager for Microsoft's Office business platform group, said customers should expect high-end search capabilities as part of SharePoint because Microsoft is effectively packaging FAST with the SharePoint platform.

This combination will produce "roughly 50 per cent or greater cost savings over what they pay today" he said. "We are going to make the business productivity solution really more cost effective."

Koenigsbauer did not dive into numbers and there are shades of gray in his words that will only dissolve once packaging and pricing are unveiled with final products.

What you can say for certain is that Microsoft has a track record of challenging high-priced markets through aggressive pricing and bundling - and through integration with products such as its SQL Server database. The high-end, enterprise search market is one market that - with high prices and few competitors - could use some fresh blood.

FAST's main competitors in enterprise search were Autonomy and IBM. Now, as a result of last January's announced acquisition, FAST is a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft while Autonomy and IBM remain at large.

Microsoft is unlikely to upset the technology or economics dynamics too much, though, having shelled out $1.3bn to get in the kinds of big sales FAST did - or at least claimed it got.

FAST was last year accused of accounting fraud in its home country of Norway, with the company restating its 2006 and 2007 earnings. Meanwhile, former chief executive turned vice president of Microsoft's search group John Lervik resigned from Microsoft last month. Microsoft said in a statement that Lervik left following a review of past accounting practices, with Lervik citing personal reasons for his departure.

That aside, high-end enterprise-search promises some big money for Microsoft. It's not something you plug in and go. Search platforms from FAST, Autonomy, and IBM are complicated sales. They're vast and highly customizable systems that mean software and consulting revenue around design and implementation.

Rather, Microsoft is likely to use FAST to get SharePoint into the kinds of enterprise accounts FAST is used to serving, while delivering a set of FAST capabilities to the mass-market using SharePoint.

And that certainly seems to be the thinking behind today's FAST roadmap, which saw Microsoft announce two initial offerings. The company plans a search server called FAST Search for SharePoint, due with the next release of the Microsoft Office System, and FAST Search for Internet Business, which will hit beta in the second half of the year.

FAST Search for SharePoint will add FAST ESP to Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server, the company said. FAST ESP provides context and linguistic relevancy to searches of a range of data in structured databases and unstructured sources.

The company expects the combination of FAST with SharePoint will produce a new range of business productivity applications from partners.

Ahead of that, Microsoft said it would continue to make ESP available - but under the SharePoint branding - with ESP for SharePoint. Microsoft said this would provide "a defined licensing path to FAST Search for SharePoint".

With no date for Microsoft Office System yet, and plenty of major users such as WeightWatchers.com and AutoTrader on the 4,000-strong ESP customer list, Microsoft had to offer some kind of interim package or risk them investigating alternatives.

FAST Search for Internet Business will integrate the search server with SharePoint Portal Server's portal, collaboration and content management and also extend ESP with new capabilities for content integration and interaction management, Microsoft said. ®

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