FAQ: What does Microsoft's latest move in enterprise search mean?

Microsoft plans to acquire Norwegian enterprise search vendor Fast Search & Transfer for US$1.23 billion in order to broaden its enterprise search portfolio.

What is the news here?

Microsoft plans to acquire Norwegian enterprise search vendor Fast Search & Transfer for US$1.23 billion in order to broaden its enterprise search portfolio.

Why did Microsoft target Fast?

Microsoft introduced in November its lineup of enterprise search tools, but the portfolio had a pronounced gap on the high end. Or as Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, said in a press conference Tuesday, "Microsoft had the tools to search millions of documents but not billions of documents."

What else does Fast bring to the table for Microsoft?

In addition to scalability, Fast brings a development platform and a service-oriented architecture that will aid in integrating search across a broad range of enterprise systems. "Companies need to consider the importance of being able to mine data and extract the value of information from it to meet compliance, e-discovery or corporate governance mandates," according to Deni Connor, principal analyst for research firm Storage Strategies Now.

What else intrigued Microsoft about Fast?

Microsoft wants users to be able to find the data they need - structured (database) and unstructured (collaboration, text documents) - and Fast's search technology is a means to that end. The company's motto has been that its technology does not search, it finds. The scope of Fast's technology - defined partly by its Contextual Insight and Contextual Navigation features - also will aid Microsoft's business intelligence efforts. And beyond data, Fast's technology offers the ability to extract people, places, locations, dates from corporate repositories. The company's Web site says it has "solutions that monitor competitive intelligence, provide brand and litigation protection, support regulatory and policy compliance, and investigate criminal and terrorist activity."

So how will Microsoft's enterprise search lineup look?

In general, Fast's technology will compliment Microsoft's existing search technology by providing pin-point data discovery as opposed to the broad and generalized search capabilities of SharePoint Server, and the forthcoming Search Server 2008 and Search Server Express 2008 (both of which run on top of SQL Server).

Raikes was sketchy on product, pricing, packaging and other details, saying he could not be more specific until the deal closes. But he said the plan is to make sure Microsoft has enterprise search covered from top to bottom. He also said the technology could spill over into Web-based search tools, and that Fast's development platform would let users have "a wide range of domain specific searches."

What about the competition?

This is all being driven by the competition to grab a share of the developing enterprise search market. In fact, Microsoft was so hot to fill out its portfolio it offered Fast, which had recently gone through a restructuring, a 42% premium over the company's closing share price on Jan. 4th. Allan B. Krans, an analyst with Technology Business Research, lists Google, IBM, Yahoo, EMC and Oracle as competitors that will line up against Microsoft.

Is there anything else under the covers here?

Fast had been exploring online advertising and search monetization and those are issues dear to Microsoft's heart outside the enterprise software market. Last year, Microsoft made its largest acquisition ever paying US$6 billion for aQuantive, a digital marketing services agency. Microsoft's goal was to expand its Internet advertising business and Fast could help that effort. After the aQuantive deal, Microsoft formed the Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group and named former aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews as its chief.

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