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Microsoft Ties SharePoint to Enterprise Search

In a move to further penetrate the enterprise search market, Microsoft today unveiled FAST Search for SharePoint, which will offer high-end enterprise search capabilities in connection with its widely deployed SharePoint server.

FAST Search is built on FAST ESP, technology Microsoft acquired last year when it bought Fast Search & Transfer, a Norwegian enterprise search company. 

Jared Spataro, director of enterprise search at Microsoft, that FAST Search for SharePoint will be tied closely to the next release of SharePoint. He could not give a release date, but said there will be more announcements in the coming months.

Microsoft has been trying to carve out a space for itself in the search engine business for some time. While the market includes other major enterprise vendors like IBM and specialized players like Autonomy, Microsoft has also been concentrating heavily on thwarting Google's rise as a power in enterprise search. For instance, it took Google Search Appliance head-on by giving away Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, based on Office SharePoint Server 2007 technology. For good measure, Microsoft included free connectors with Search Server Express that index content from EMC's (NYSE: EMC) Documentum and IBM's (NYSE: IBM) FileNet.

Google's response was to bring consultants Adhere Solutions into its Enterprise Program, which includes developers, consultants and independent software vendors providing value-added services for its enterprise products. By doing this, it got connectors based on technology from Adhere partner MuseGlobal, a content integration vendor, that tap into 5,400 sources of data.

Microsoft is now picking up the slack. "With FAST Search for SharePoint, we're unleashing the potential of high-end search capabilities to help companies cut costs and increase productivity," Spataro said. "People have largely thought of enterprise search as confined to searching applications within the firewall, and that will be the target."

It will not, however, be the only target for this new product. While FAST Search for SharePoint will help users search applications and customer data behind the firewall, it will also enable enterprises to add search capabilities to their externally facing Web sites, Spataro said.

"They'll be able to create an experience on their sites that lets people find what they're looking for and also find other things that at the end will be more lucrative," he explained. For example, he said the data found using Fast Search for SharePoint could let enterprises cross-sell and upsell customers, the way (NASDAQ: AMZN) does.

While FAST's ESP technology is being baked into Microsoft's upcoming FAST for SharePoint release, it's also being rolled out in a separate form for current SharePoint users today. FAST ESP for SharePoint enables users with SharePoint Enterprise licenses to pay only for server licenses and get client licenses free, with a licensing path to FAST Search for SharePoint when it ships.

FAST for Web businesses
Microsoft also introduced a specialized offering targeting online businesses and based on FAST ESP. Fast Search for Internet Business offers capabilities designed to help companies to retain visitors for longer times on their Web sites, to better upsell and cross-sell and to collate information on the back-end to serve it up to customers in as engaging a way as possible, Spataro said.

He cited (NYSE: BBY), which uses FAST ESP with many capabilities focused on e-commerce, as an example. "When you type in MP3, instead of links, you get a whole experience around buying an MP3 player that a product manager has created on FAST ESP," Spataro said. "You can compare different players, read gossip and so on."

The entire experience on is search-driven, Spataro said.

Fast Search for Internet Business will go into beta during the second half of this year, and the launch date will depend on customer feedback, he added.

"It's very important for us to get this one right," Spataro said. "We want to get people started out on it."

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