Microsoft Gives Away Enterprise Search

Microsoft is doing for business search what competitors already do for consumer search: giving tools away for free.

The company today announced Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, which is based on Office SharePoint Server 2007 technology.

“The new Search Server Express is core to our strategy to broaden the appeal of search solutions to end users and developers,” Kirk Koenigsbauer, general manager of Microsoft’s SharePoint Business Group, said in a statement. “Businesses can have Search Server Express up and running in as little as 30 minutes, delivering secure, relevant results to their users at no charge and with the flexibility to run the solution on their own hardware.”

Microsoft debuted the new server at the Enterprise Search Summit West in San Jose, Calif. Search Server 2008 Express is currently available for download as a release candidate, or RC, the final step in Microsoft’s testing process before a product is officially released.

It’s about time, says one analyst.

“I’d say that Microsoft has at long last gotten enterprise search religion, and any company in that space should expect increased competition going forward,” Matt Rosoff, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told in an e-mail interview.

Not surprisingly, search giant Google is right in Microsoft’s crosshairs.

“With Search Server Express, Microsoft is undercutting Google’s Search Appliances in hopes of stopping or delaying Google’s incursion into the enterprise,” Rosoff added.

In that regard, Microsoft has chosen a simpler model for differentiating Search Server Express from its “charge for” offerings. The only difference between Express and the full version of Microsoft Search Server (formerly SharePoint for Search), according to Rosoff, is scale. Search Server Express has a one-server limit, whereas Microsoft Search Server doesn’t.

By contrast, Rosoff said, Google has indexing limits based on the tier level of the appliance that the customer purchases. “It’s definitely an effort to commoditize low-end enterprise search, as well as a way to draw customers in and eventually spur upgrades,” he added.

Indeed, Microsoft is tossing the kitchen sink into the bargain in order to get corporate users to bite.

For instance, Search Server Express will include free connectors that index content from EMC’s Documentum and IBM’s FileNet. Those connectors are scheduled to be available across all of Microsoft’s search products early next year, according to Microsoft statements.

Microsoft also announced it has added federated search capabilities based on the OpenSearch standard. The company said that several partners, including Open Text, Business Objects, Cognos, and EMC, have agreed to develop federated search connectors based on OpenSearch.

“I could imagine individual departments in a large company installing Search Server Express just for the resources they need, with IT eventually catching on and systematizing search across the company with a full Microsoft Search Server installation,” said Rosoff. “It’s a classic Microsoft strategy.”

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