Since I weighed in last week on the Microsoft acquisition of FAST Search & Transfer, I have probably read 50+ blog entries and articles on the event. I have also talked to other analysts, received emails from numerous search vendors summarizing their thoughts and expectations about the enterprise search market and had a fair number of phone calls asking questions about what it means. The questions range from “Did Microsoft pay too much?, to “Please define enterprise search,” to “What are the next acquisitions in this market going to be going to be?” My short and flippant answers would be “No,” “Do you have a few hours?” and “Everyone and no one.”

I have seen some excellent analysis contributing relevant commentary to this discussion, some misinterpretation of what the distinction’s are between enterprise search and Web search, and some conclusions that I would seriously debate. You’ll forgive me if I don’t include links to the pieces that influenced the following comments. But one by Curt Monash in his piece on January 14 summarized the state of this industry and its already long history. It is noteworthy that while the popular technology press has only recently begun to write about enterprise search, it has been around for decades in different forms and in a short piece he manages to capture the highlights and current state.

Other commentary seems to imply that Microsoft is not really positioning itself to compete with Google because Google is really about Web (Internet) searching and Microsoft is not. This implies that FAST has no understanding of Web searching. Several points must be made:

  1. FAST Search & Transfer has been involved in many aspects of search technologies for a decade. Soon after landing on our shores it was the search engine of choice for the U.S. government’s unifying search engine to support Internet-based searching of agency Web sites by the public. Since then it has helped countless enterprises (e.g. governments, manufacturers, e-commerce companies) expose their content, products and services via the Web. FAST knows a lot about how to make Web search better for all kinds of applications and they will bring that expertise to Microsoft.
  2. Google is exploiting the Web to deliver free business software tools that directly challenge Microsoft stronghold ( e.g. email, word processing). This will not go unanswered by the largest supplier of office automation software.
  3. Google has several thousand Google Enterprise Search Appliances installed in all types of enterprises around the world, so it is already as widely deployed in enterprises in terms of numbers as FAST, albeit at much lower prices and for simpler application. That doesn’t mean that they are not satisfying a very practical need for a lot of organizations where it is “good enough.”

For more on the competition between the two check this article out.

Enterprise search has been implied to mean only search across all content for an entire enterprise. This raises another fundamental problem of perception. Basically, there are few to no instances of a single enterprise search engine being the only search solution for any major enterprise. Even when an organization “standardizes” on one product for its enterprise search, there will be dozens of other instances of search deployed for groups, divisions, and embedded within applications. Just two examples are the use of Vivisimo now used for USA.gov to give the public access to government agency public content, even as each agency uses different search engines for internal use. Also, there is IBM, which offers the OmniFind suite of enterprise search products, but uses Endeca internally for its Global Services Business enterprise.

Finally, on the issue of expectations, most of the vendors I have heard from are excited that the Microsoft announcement confirms the existence of an enterprise search market. They know that revenues for enterprise search, compared to Web search, have been miniscule. But now that Microsoft is investing heavily in it, they hope that top management across all industries will see it as a software solution to procure. Many analysts are expecting other major acquisitions, perhaps soon. Frequently mentioned buyers are Oracle and IBM but both have already made major acquisitions of search and content products, and both already offer enterprise search solutions. It is going to be quite some time before Microsoft sorts out all the pieces of FAST IP and decides how to package them. Other market acquisitions will surely come. The question is whether the next to be acquired will be large search companies with complex and expensive offerings bought by major software corporations. Or will search products targeting specific enterprise search markets be a better buy to make an immediate impact for companies seeking broader presence in enterprise search as a complementary offering to other tools. There are a lot of enterprise search problems to be solved and a lot of players to divvy up the evolving business for a while to come.

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