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Microsoft drops open-source birthday gift with FAST

Lucidly imaginative?

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As birthdays go, it's not a bad present. Microsoft's decision to sacrifice FAST's Enterprise Search Platform (ESP) development on Linux and Unix for Windows potentially gives open-source search providers like Lucid Imagination a free pass.

In announcing the news Monday, FAST chief technology officer Bjørn Olstad was clearly cognizant of the implications of the move. Olstad tried to preempt the potential customer hemorrhage with a standard commitment to interoperability with Linux and Unix and vague references to some "hosted solutions."

"Many of our customers run FAST ESP on Linux and Unix today, and we recognize that our future focus on Windows means change," Olstad wrote. Microsoft is giving you until 2018 to stick with the existing versions of ESP - the date when extended support ends.

Olstad is right to be concerned. Customers interested in open-source search are moving to Apache Software Foundation's (ASF's) Lucene and Solr, and Lucid has spend the first year of its life charging people to provide support along with consulting to get the move right.

Hammer time

On Tuesday. Lucid's chief executive Eric Gries claimed 80 per cent of the FAST's customer base ran on Linux or Unix, and Microsoft's decision will simply mean those who'd been previously unsure, concerned about the future under Microsoft, or interested in using an open-source architecture like Lucene or Solr will now move elsewhere.

"This news is the final nail in the coffin," Gries said of FAST. "I'm puzzled by the thinking at Microsoft. But for us it definitely helps. Customers who were on the fence thinking about staying with FAST and Linux and moving to Solr - their decision is very clear."

Lucid counts those who've moved to Lucid or Solr in the last year as Fortune 500s that don't want be tied to a single company's roadmap or paying expensive licensing fees. Microsoft's plan with FAST is to integrate the search capabilities into Office and SharePoint 2010. Since January 2009, Lucid has picked up Ford, Nike, Sears, and Macy's.

Lucid's average annual subscription charge is $30,000, which gives customers pre-integration and support for these ASF-based projects. It targets those who like open-source but don't want to get their hands dirty and that want the comfort of having somebody to call or help build their system. Lucid's services include updates and sweeps of customers' installations to look for bottlenecks and check the accuracy of the data.

There are other alternatives to those who don't want to become dependent on Window, Office, or SharePoint or be locked into a single vendor such as Microsoft or even rival Oracle that offers its Secure Enterprise Search. These options include Google's Search Appliance and also Sphinx.

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