FASTforward: Microsoft and FAST

The morning finished with Jared Spataro, a Microsoft product manager for SharePoint, responsible for enterprise search: namely, the group in which FAST will belong after the acquisition completes. He talked about why Microsoft is making this acquisition, how FAST will benefit, and what this means for customers.

Microsoft started to look at enterprise search about 18 months ago when they realized that their customers no longer saw search as just a feature, but that it was actually shaping the user experience. They found a huge gap in the market between high-end and low-end enterprise search segments, and created a mid-range search capability combined within the SharePoint platform. They also attacked the low end of the market by introducing Search Server Express, a free downloadable product. But that left the high end of the market, which Microsoft is approaching through the acquisition of FAST. So the answer to the question “what’s in it for Microsoft?”: total search world domination.

So what’s in it for FAST, besides $1.2B? It gives them scalability both in their ability to innovate and in the massive sales and marketing channel that will expand their product reach. Microsoft has recently bought in to the idea of distributed development, both to find and retain talent and because of non-US acquisitions, meaning that FAST’s development team can stay in Oslo, far from Redmond and hence a bit autonomous.

At the high end, of course, FAST runs on non-Microsoft platforms, and Microsoft is committed to continuing support and innovation across all platforms, a stance that should somewhat calm the fears of existing FAST customers. Spataro also talked about how it’s an advantage to customers that they offer complementary capabilities in enterprise search across the low, medium and high tiers; personally, I’ve never seen a big advantage to having multiple products in the same product class but based on different technologies available from the same vendor, since there will be confusion at the boundaries and some uncomfortable migrations.

He summed up with the overall SharePoint strategy, based on the pillars of business intelligence, collaboration, portal, search, content management and business processes. It’s not their intention to bury FAST inside SharePoint, although it will likely end up as part of the platform at least for branding purposes.

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