Microsoft is ratcheting up its enterprise search play with a new offering, Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, which will be made available as a free download.
"This is essentially a search server designed to take enterprise-class search capabilities and bring those to businesses of all sizes," Jared Spataro, group product manager for enterprise search at Microsoft, told eWEEK.
The new Express product will be announced at the Enterprise Search Summit West in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 6.
"We are targeting IT professionals with this offering, which provides businesses with an interface to the existing systems they already have running," he said.
The release candidate for Search Server 2008 Express is available for download here,with final availability expected in early 2008, Spataro said.
Search Server 2008 Express is based on an existing Microsoft product, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server for Search—which has been renamed Microsoft Search Server 2008—and becomes the entry-level offering in Microsoft's three-tier enterprise search product lineup that also includes Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.
To read more about the competition between Microsoft and Google in the enterprise search space, click here.
The core search engine and capabilities are the same across all three products, none of which has any preset document limits. The difference between the products is that Search Server 2008 Express can only be run on a single box.
"If an organization has deployed Office SharePoint Server 2007as its enterprise search solution, it is unlikely that they would need Microsoft Search Server 2008. However, there may be situations where a SharePoint enterprise customer has a limited, perhaps departmental need for search, where Search Server 2008 Express could be a more rapid and lower-cost solution than adapting the SharePoint enterprise search feature set," Spataro said.
Customers need a box with Windows Server 2003 loaded, and installation should take less than 30 minutes and just a few clicks, he said.
Sue Feldman, a vice president at research firm IDC, agrees that cost and ease of installation will be key components to the success of the offering, particularly among small businesses, where there is currently little enterprise search penetration.
"There is no question that they will buy into Microsoft's strategy, as knowledge workers absolutely need to be able to find their own stuff, never mind what the company has. If the search engine is free and easy to implement, and it sure sounds like Microsoft's is, I would expect people to avail themselves of this, even if it is just to create an accessible collection of information," she told eWEEK.
Read more here about how Google is playing in enterprise territory.
The model for Search Server 2008 and Search Server 2008 Express is based on that for Windows SharePoint Services, where the company offers a solution for which it charges as well as a free product that people can build on to create an ecosystem that provides value for everyone, Spataro said.
Microsoft is confident of the huge potential market for enterprise search, which Spataro said is currently at a tipping point, given that there are almost 6 million businesses in the United States alone and less than 1 percent of them use an enterprise search solution.
Also, some 60 billion Internet searches are conducted around the globe every month, 10 billion of which take place in the United States, he said, which underscores how much people like the search interface as a way to find information.
Page 2: Microsoft Offers Free Enterprise Search Product
But the problem until now has been that these users have not getting the same search experience at work for the business information they look for, Spataro said, noting that the average U.S.-based knowledge worker does 20 searches a day for information.
This translates into between 9 and 10 hours a week users spend looking for the information they need to get their jobs done, Spataro said.
As such, Microsoft realized there is a broad market opportunity in that space and decided to create a product that would bring these enterprise-class capabilities to the business masses, he said.
IBM is ramping up its enterprise search engine. Click here to read more.
A key component of the Express product is that it not only indexes the information source, but also includes federated search capabilities based on the OpenSearch standard.
Several companies, including Open Text, Business Objects, Cognos and EMC, have already signed on to develop federated search connectors that will let Microsoft's enterprise search customers connect to their information systems, Spataro said.
All the enterprise search products will support, out of the box, file shares, Web sites, Lotus Notes databases, SharePoint sites and Exchange, as well as free connectors that index content from EMC's Documentum and IBM's FileNet.
Another big differentiator of these products will be on the security front, where companies can choose to have existing access rights and permissions checked twice before any information is shown.
"Security—the existing access rights and permissions—will be indexed along with the data, but then, when a query is made and a set of meta-results are generated, a second check can be made against the original system to recheck those permissions before the user gets to see these," Spataro said.
Companies could thereby ensure that they have the right level of security in place, which is a big differentiator for Microsoft over its competitors, he said.
IDC's Feldman agrees that this is a differentiator for Microsoft. "It is the only free solution I know of that allows you to have the access rights and permissions as part of the index, attached to the document," she said.
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