Microsoft: Fast on the Draw

Beyond the engineers with years of search pedigree and the 2,000 customers, Fast has technology that Microsoft simply couldn't resist.

Offering $1.2 billion, a 42 percent premium over Fast's trading price is a princely sum even for the coffers of a company such as Microsoft.

Clearly, Microsoft wanted a leadership in the market, and beyond the engineers with years of search pedigree and the 2,000 customers, Fast has technology that Microsoft simply couldn't resist.

Fast plugs into the high-end of the search market, towering over low-end products such as Google Mini appliance, IBM 's OmniFind software for Yahoo, and Microsoft's own free Search Server Express, as well as Google's Search Appliance and Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007 in the middle tier.

Fast's search capabilities can find individual documents from a library of billions. When paired with Microsoft's SharePoint, which provides more broad, general search, Microsoft will be able to meet the search needs for any business, Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes told press and analysts in a call to discuss the deal Jan. 8.

Zia Zaman, executive vice president of global marketing at Fast, told eWEEK Jan. 8 one of Fast's draws is the company's content capture and refinement features. Fast tags content with metadata to make it more searchable. This is search power users currently don't get in SharePoint.

On top of that, Zaman said Fast added a presentation layer that lets users inside or outside the firewall to put together a search demo or proof-of-concept within weeks instead of months.

The presentation layer was really interesting to us, particularly when we think about integration with SharePoint long term," Kirk Koenigsbauer, general manager for Microsoft's Office Business Platform, told eWEEK Jan. 8.

What to Watch in 2008

Zaman said Fast and Microsoft together are going to be a formidable player in interaction management, which he claims is the next battleground in the space, "because we really understand how to connect the users and manage their interaction so the consume information more effectively."

Google, IBM : consider yourselves warned. IBM doesn't comment on other vendors' acquisitions but Google, which in 2007 surpassed the 10,000 customer milestone for its Google Search Appliance and Google mini, shrugged its multi-billion-dollar shoulders.

Matt Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, pointed out the irony of Microsoft's contention that the traditional search vendors weren't serving the market, and then went and bought one of the old-guard vendors in Fast. To that end, he said Microsoft will face challenges in integrating both company cultures and product lines.

Still, Glotzbach didn't necessarily disagree, noting: "The enterprise search market has historically been an underserved market and frankly that's exactly why we got into it five or six years ago with the Google Search Appliance."

Though Microsoft is laser-focused on closing the Fast deal by the second calendar quarter of 2008, Koenigsbauer said the company is excited about the potential for Microsoft to use Fast's ability to index billions of documents in not only behind-the-firewall scenarios, but as a software-plus-service instantiation.

Hosting such search indexes would ideally free business customers from buying several servers to accommodate their consumers or employees.

Longer term, Koenigsbauer said Microsoft plans to leverage Fast's AdMomentum private-label contextual advertising and monetization platform and mSearch mobile search platform. In conjunction with its aQuantive ad platform, Microsoft could use these to take share from Google and Yahoo while boosting its online ad revenues.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Fast has a legacy of Web search expertise for the consumer market, an area where Microsoft is far behind Google.

Raikes wouldn't go on record as saying Fast's Web search capabilities would be bundled with Windows Live Search, but he confirmed Microsoft and Fast discussed the relevance of those assets.