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What Determines a Leader in the Enterprise Search Market?

Let’s agree that most if not all “enterprise search” is really about point solutions within large corporations. As I have written elsewhere, the “enterprise” is almost always a federation of constituencies, each with their own solutions for content applications and that includes search. If there is any place that we find truly enterprise-wide application of search, it is in small and medium organizations (SMBs). This would include professional service firms (consultancies and law firms), NGOs, many non-profits, and young R&D companies. There are plenty of niche solutions for SMBs and they are growing.

I bring this up because the latest Gartner “magic quadrant” lists Microsoft (MS) as the “leader” in enterprise search; this is the same place Gartner has positioned Fast Search & Transfer in the past. Whether this is because Fast’s assets are now owned by MS or because Gartner really believes that Microsoft is the leader, I still beg to strongly differ.

I have been perplexed by the Microsoft/Fast deal since it was announced earlier this year because, although Fast has always offered a lot of search technology, I never found it to be a compelling solutions for any of my clients. Putting aside the huge upfront capital cost for licenses, the staggering amount of development work, and time to deployment there were other concerns. I sensed a questionable commitment to an on-going, sustainable, unified and consistent product vision with supporting services. I felt that any client of mine would need very deep pockets indeed to really make a solid value case for Fast. Most of my clients are already burned out on really big enterprise deployments of applications in the ERP and CRM space, and understand the wisdom of beginning with smaller value-achievable, short-term projects on which they can build.

Products that impress me as having much more “out-of-the-box” at a more reasonable cost are clearly leaders in their unique domains. They have important clients achieving a good deal of benefit at a reasonable cost, in a short period of time. They have products that can be installed, implemented and maintained internally without a large staff of administrators, and they have good reputations among their clients for responsiveness and a cohesive series of roll-outs. Several have as many or more clients than Fast ever had (if we ever know the real number). Coveo, Exalead, ISYS, Recommind, Vivisimo, and X1 are a few of a select group that are marking a mark in their respective niches, as products ready for action with a short implementation cycle (weeks or months not years).

Autonomy and Endeca continue to bring value to very large projects in large companies but are not plug-and-play solutions, by any means. Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft offer search solutions of a very different type with a heavy vendor or third-party service requirement. Google Search Appliance has a much larger installed base than any of these but needs serious tuning and customization to make it suitable to enterprise needs. Take the “leadership” designation with a big grain of salt because what leads on the charts may be exactly what bogs you down. There are no generic, one-suit-fits-all enterprise search solutions including those in the “leaders” quadrant.


  1. Luis Octavio García Reyes - Spain

    Hi Lynda,
    I have carefully read its opinion, and I wonder if the merger between Microsot fast and has been so successful as to offer a product so good in so little time. The Gartner report on the last FAST placed among the best. In May 2008, Leslie Owens, Matthew Brown, Ken Poore, Norman Nicolson published the report Q2 2008 in which MS-FAST software was the second in terms of market presence, below Autonomy.
    Perhaps we are entering a war only between two contenders, MS-FAST vs autonomy?
    Is not really surprising in the report by Gartner sharp rise in the Google Search Appliance, has penetrated far into the market … More than Oracle, IBM, Endeca …? Maybe we should give more consideration to Google or redefine our concepts … 😉
    Finally, I would like to emphasize the factor of Autonomy visionary, really interesting if this actually viewing the future of enterprise search.

  2. Lynda Moulton

    Thank you for your comments – I gather that you also feel we need to look for search solutions beyond the “magical” few whose position in the squares may depend most on the net sales of the entire company – not just search products.
    I won’t comment further on the criteria that other analyst and consulting firms use for ranking products because each has a valid point of view. You have probably noticed that the Gilbane Group does not rank products. Instead we work with vendors to assure that their offerings are fairly represented and presented in a context of the vendor’s choosing. When asked to do so, we help vendors address a particular audience in a way that represents what the product proposes to do for that target group.
    My point in this blog entry was that in an area as broad and deep as search, placing a leadership label on a company because it has a huge market presence does not help individual buyers with individual needs. As we all know, companies buying technology need to focus on the business problem and a wide range of product criteria to find the best fit for their enterprise. I try to help buyers focus their search for “search” on the best fit for short and long term need for their own purpose. That includes everything from the core technology, to the customer business experience, to the track record already established for the product, and expectations for future upgrades and added value.

  3. Jürgen Wagner

    Out-of-the-box is nice for small applications and commodity search, but not really for scalable, heterogeneous enterprise search applications with plenty of client systems accessing a platform that offers intelligent search not only to users, but also to other applications. Scalability is another issue. How many of the vendors can take a 10 TB data volume at 50 queries/second… and then go from there to 30 TB at 100 queries/second without having to restructure the entire system topology? FAST clearly has some complexity and it’s not what I would recommend for some plain website full-text search of a few hundred content pages. However, with the possible exception of Exalead, I don’t really see any other search vendor positioned that well in the high-end and true Enterprise Search market.

  4. Dan Bauhaus

    I assert that a search platform product can (and should) be “out of the box” and easily scale for the complex enterprise environments out there.  That product should also provide high-value features, and not just on an a la carte basis.  People, it’s 2008:  Why should organizations shell out $100,000’s in enterprise search licenses, and then shell out another 2-4 times that for services to get the product working?  Why do some enterprise search products require months or years to implement?  I’ve worked for enterprise search vendors including market-leader Verity for over 10 years, and have only seen a small handful of large data/large query loads that you mention, Jürgen.  Large data like 100m’s or billions, usually .gov or .mil, large query loads, e-commerce. The vast majority of true enterprise implementations are in the millions or tens of millions of documents or items, with peak query loads in the low 10’s per second range at most.  Few systems can do even that.  Even fewer can scale their search indexes to 100’s of millions or billions.  Those that can scale, handle complexity, and implement quickly and easily are signing up customers like gangbusters, and providing incredible value to organizations large and small.  Surprisingly, some of these search vendors don’t appear in analyst’s “magic quadrants” or their equivalents (hats off to Gilbane for their sensible approach).  What could be the reason for this?  Did they not pay their bill?  Are analysts doing their homework and talking with real-life customers?  Is it all about money?  Many search vendors noted by analysts have fewer customers than search vendors not noted–can you say pricey product?  Whatever the answer, organizations searching for search should be sure to take everything they read with a grain of salt.  Don’t take my word or anyone’s word as final. And in the end, be sure to take the car for a drive before you buy it.

  5. Paulin

    We’ve used ISYS for years and found them to be a very reliable search engine. We currently have over 1 mil. documents in storage for government purposes.

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