Yesterday, Microsoft announced some changes to their enterprise search strategy. To read all about it, go to www.microsoft.com/enterprisesearch. Here’s the summary:
Server-based enterprise search solutions are now available in three flavours:
- Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
- Microsoft Search Server 2008
- Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express Edition
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) is the full blown platform for information and knowledge solutions that includes features for information management, collaboration, portal and indexing/search
Microsoft Search Server 2008 (MSS) is a dedicated search server. It’s the same indexing and search technologies provided within MOSS 2007 but without all the other features. In other words, if you’re using MOSS, you do not also need to buy MSS. MSS used to be known as the mouthful that was Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 for Search. MSS does not have the full set of search and indexing features provided within MOSS. Specifically, you do not get People search (dependent on MOSS for providing user profiles and MySites) and you do not get the Business Data Catalog (indexing structured applications – dependent on MOSS for managing application integration and authentication)
Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express Edition (MSSE) is a limited version of MSS that is being made available as a free download. Yup, Free. No licenses required. If you choose to use SQL Server Express as the back-end database (also free), then the only license you will require is for the operating system – Windows Server 2003. MSSE has all the features of MSS. The only limit is that it is a single server solution. If you wanted to scale it to multiple servers (e.g. dedicated server for indexing, dedicated and load-balanced servers for processing search queries), then you would need to upgrade to MSS.
Also in the announcement, but less easy to spot, is the introduction of some new features within enterprise search:
- Federated Search Connectors
- Streamlined Installation
- Unified Administration Dashboard
Federated Search connectors will enable you to submit a search query to multiple different indexes – both local and online – and bring back results grouped by the different index. (It is not possible to bring them all back together as a single results set because different indexes apply different ranking algorithms). You can build your own or download add-ons from the new Search Connectors Gallery. They are not yet available, but partners listed include: Business Objects, EMC Documentum, Endeca, FAST ESP, Handshake Software, OpenText, SAS, and Symantec
The Streamlined Installation process (think wizards) should make it a lot easier to set-up and configure an enterprise search solution using Microsoft technologies.
The Unified Administration Dashboard will provide a better user interface (UI) for administration and maintenance. Currently, within MOSS 2007, the search settings are somewhat buried in the Central Administration console. The new dashboard should make it much easier and quicker to keep track of your search infrastructure
What’s the deal?
There is a fourth product in this Microsoft-specific playground that also warrants a mention, the underlying platform that serves MOSS 2007 – Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). With this announcement, organisations planning information management and collaborative solutions have some new choices:
- If you want to build an internal enterprise platform for information management and collaboration, MOSS 2007 remains the product of choice if you go down the Microsoft route (naturally there are other vendors also in this space)
- If you are less concerned about enterprise stuff and are more interested in building agile collaborative workspaces that operate independently of each other, chances are you would be looking at just using Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). By adding on Search Server Express Edition, you would now be able to search across all of those different workspaces using a single query. (WSS alone means you can only search within one site at a time.) This provides a rich solution with no extra licence fees required other than Windows Server 2003 (WSS is provided as part of Windows Server 2003)
- If you are not, for whatever reason, using or planning to use MOSS 2007, you can whack Search Server Express into your environment for minimal cost. No limits on what you index, as long as one server can cope with the load
- And what about Search Server 2008? Well, if the Express edition is not enough and you need to scale your search infrastructure, you will need to upgrade. But if you are that serious about your search solution, chances are you’ll be interested in social networking (people search) and collective intelligence (combining structured and unstructured sources of information). I’d wager that route will lead to MOSS rather than MSS although it will depend on the different licensing costs involved versus the calculated benefits
Introducing Federated Search Connectors is a big deal, at least it will be for the customers I have been working with. At last, Microsoft is providing a solution that acknowledges there is life outside The One Index. (It’s similar to the early days of Active Directory – The One Directory – later being extended, thanks to Identity Management solutions, to connect and synchronise with other directories.) As the volume of information being indexed continues to grow – internally as well as out on the Internet – it becomes much harder to maintain high relevance within results from a single index. The most effective solution is to send a search query across different indexes that can be individually tailored to serve up the best possible results.
The only thing you can actually get your hands on today is the release candidate for Search Server 2008 Express edition. The new features are not yet available for MOSS 2007. When will they be? Well that’s for Microsoft to announce but I think we can expect to see updates available in early 2008. No vendor wants its free products to have more features than the licensed versions…
I should include a disclaimer: I’m an independent consultant running Enterprise Search workshops funded by, and on behalf of, Microsoft. I’ll be delving into some of the finer details within this announcement within future events.
[Update: 09/11/07] The announcement has also been covered over on the product group’s blog: http://blogs.msdn.com/enterprisesearch/
Filed under: Microsoft Search