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Microsoft's Buy-N-Hold Search Strategy

Microsoft hopes a license deal will win enterprise search customers today with the promise of more advanced capabilities in the future. But you'll have to kiss your index goodbye.
Microsoft hopes a license deal will win enterprise search customers today with the promise of more advanced capabilities in the future. But you'll have to kiss your index goodbye.It took me a few minutes to get Microsoft's search road map straight in my briefing with the company last week. Here's why.

Microsoft made two announcements today. First, a version of Fast ESP that fully integrates with SharePoint is now available. This product is called ESP for SharePoint.

The company also announced plans for Fast Search for SharePoint. This is a forthcoming version of the search platform that will have new features. However, it won't be available until Office 14 comes out, perhaps some time next year.

But Microsoft doesn't want customers to wait that long, not with the likes of Autonomy and other enterprise search vendors swarming the market.

To entice customers to get fully on board with Fast today, Microsoft has offered a licensing deal. Customers that get Enterprise client access licenses for ESP for SharePoint now won't have to get new user licenses when Fast Search for SharePoint comes out with Office 14. They'll only have to buy the appropriate number of server licenses.

With this licensing option Microsoft hopes to grab and hold on to enterprise search customers that might be inclined to check out Autonomy, Recommind, Vivisimo, Google, IBM, Endeca, DT Search, and others.

Unfortunately, customers that license ESP for SharePoint today with an eye toward upgrading to Fast Search for SharePoint are also licensing a big headache. That's because any content indexed using ESP for SharePoint will have to re-index content to make it searchable using Fast Search for SharePoint.

In other words, deploy ESP for SharePoint today and index all your content. Then next year throw out those indexes and do it all over again. That's no minor undertaking, and IT knows it.

IT professionals said indexing content and maintaining those indexes was the No. 1 one technological challenge of enterprise search, according to a new InformationWeek Analytics Report.

Some companies may prefer to stick with the "official" SharePoint search platform, even if costs them some pain down the line. That said, the indexing issue gives competitors a wedge, and you can be sure they'll exploit it.