Exalead Woos FAST Customers

Microsoft’s proposed $1.2 billion purchase of Norwegian enterprise search vendor Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) last month gave a suddenly high profile to a relatively quiet segment of the search industry.

Now some competitors are jumping on the deal’s implications to try and woo customers away from FAST. Exalead announced a new migration program called Accelerate With Exalead that’s designed specifically to help OEMs that tailor FAST for enterprise customers migrate to Exalead.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company had no comment on marketing plans by FAST competitors. The software giant expects the deal to pass all regulatory hurdles and become official by second quarter of this year.

IDC analyst Sue Feldman said she isn’t surprised Exalead is making explicit moves to try and get FAST customers and expects others to do likewise.

“I’m sure there is some uncertainty over what Microsoft is going to do with FAST, so I expect competitors to jump on that possibility to try and gain customers,” Feldman told InternetNews.com. Still, she said, converting existing customers is no small feat and many current FAST customers might be more heartened than put off by the software giant’s backing of the search company.

“There are a lot of big companies that have a lot of time invested in FAST, which takes a fair bit of work to implement so jumping away is not that easy,” Feldman said. “Competitors are welcome to try, but I don’t think Microsoft’s ownership has raised much fear, uncertainty and doubt. What I tell clients is, ‘You should buy what you need’.”

[cob:Related_Articles]In addition to discounts on term agreements, Exalead’s program includes a free half-day Exalead Migration Assessment/Integration workshop, evaluation copy of Exalead OEM edition, hands-on integration and prototype support.

Kevin Kramer, vice president of OEM sales at Exalead, said the migration program is designed to take risk off the table for companies considering a switch. “The deal [Microsoft/FAST] isn’t yet official and customers are asking, ‘What does it mean?,’ Kramer told InternetNews.com.

The Road Ahead
Kramer said he has no doubt Microsoft’s ownership will impact FAST’s feature road map to be more in sync with Microsoft’s strategy. “And those moves may not align well with what an OEM customer wants,” he said.

Specifically, Kramer raised questions about Microsoft’s support going forward for non-Microsoft operating systems such as Linux and Solaris as well as support for Java. “My perspective is that the vendor shouldn’t dictate too many requirements on the ISV (Independent Software Vendor), but dovetail with their native solutions,” he said. “All that comes into questions when Microsoft, which has a fairly proprietary approach, comes to market.”

Another enterprise search competitor thinks Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Yahoo also presents opportunities. “With Yahoo, Microsoft is changing its focus from enterprise search to Web search,” Jim Waters, vice president of marketing at Coveo, told InternetNews.com. “That’s great news for Coveo and a very large part of the enterprise search market.”

Waters said that regardless of whether the Yahoo deal is completed, Microsoft is hardly about to abandon a market it just paid over a billion dollars to get into. “I don’t think they’re going to ignore it, but you can’t focus on everything all at once,” Waters said. “Going toe-to-toe with Google is a very big fight that may cause some enterprise customers to pause and ask where Microsoft’s going — the business enterprise or the consumer Internet.”

Gartner recently released a report that predicts the market for enterprises search will top $1 billion by 2010 due to consolidation and new features that make the technology more attractive to large businesses.

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