Microsoft Search Server and FAST

Microsoft have a new server product: Search Server 2008. Well I say “new” but it seems to be based the same technology they’ve been pushing since the days of Site Server, on which I spent most of the late 1990’s travelling the world doing training and consulting. The same technology is used in Index Server, SQL Server Full Text Search, SharePoint, and even Windows Desktop Search.

It’s a workmanlike search technology, but I think people are so used to Google being so effective on the Internet that when they come to search their intranet using these technologies they come up short. You have to do a bit more wading through useless hits before you find what you’re looking for. In fact it’s a bit like going back the bad old days of AltaVista, et al before Google revolutionised search with PageRank.

This begs the question how good any intranet search solution could be (including Google’s own Search Appliance) on a intranet that consists of file shares and SharePoint document libraries containing mostly Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, etc, with nary a hyperlink in sight. How would you get something like PageRank, which relies on incoming links to help rank content, working with a “corpus” (in search parlance) such as this?

So, Microsoft have now pretty much admitted that their search technology needs some work, because they’ve just shelled out $1.2 billion for FAST,a Norwegian search technology company. Or should that be “bailed out” as FAST seem to have had some financial difficulties recently? It’ll be interesting to see if FAST’s technology, when they integrate it, is more effective than Microsoft’s current offerings.

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