Enterprise search shakeup
Microsoft has tendered an offer to acquire Fast Search & Transfer. The FAST board of directors unanimously recommend shareholders accept the bid. The transaction is expected to be complete in the second quarter of 2008.
The offer will be subject to customary terms and conditions, including receipt of acceptances representing more than 90 percent of FAST shares and voting power on a fully diluted basis, and receipt of all necessary regulatory approvals on terms acceptable to Microsoft.
IDC's Susan Feldman reports that In the past year, Microsoft's Sharepoint group launched a new suite of search products to appeal to the low end of the market (Search Server Express) and to the mid-market (Search Server). With FAST as a high end product, they can cover the market. FAST brings with them some very nice technologies and products that will fit well with both Sharepoint and Microsoft's Live group of products:
- Scalability to billions of documents. Search Server handles millions, not billions. FAST's Web roots (they began life as AlltheWeb, a Web search engine) required scalability from their inception. Large publishers and media companies, manufacturers, and government intelligence organizations need this kind of scale.
- Unified access to content and data. The FAST architecture has been at the vanguard of a new type of information access platform that includes both content and data, and delivers not just lists of documents, but charts, graphs and reports.
- Ad Momentum, a monetization platform for search queries. Ad Momentum uses matching technology to match ads to queries and documents, handle ad word auctions and payments. It was launched in 2007, and could become an important product with the right (Microsoft) marketing muscle behind it as companies try to grab a portion of the multibillion dollar online advertising market.
- Contextual search. FAST has done some interesting research in how to improve a query by knowing something about the person doing a search. They have enriched queries with geographic location, and with profiles of users. Like many other enterprise search engines, they have worked on both query enrichment (adding synonyms, for instance), and improved tagging of documents to find similarities.
- Rich media search. FAST's CTO, Bjorn Olstad, is an expert in image search.
- Semantic features. FAST bought a linguistics research laboratory and has also embedded technologies from vendors like Lexalytics and Basis in order to provide multilingual understanding, extract and tag documents with names of people, places and things, and to extract sentiment or opinions. Reputation monitoring is a new, hot area that uses these features.
- Hosted solutions. FAST hosts search for some large publishers like Elsevier. Combining their expertise with Microsoft's data centers could expand this business further just has interest in increasing in letting someone else run complex search applications.
- Search consulting practice. The FAST Best Practices group brings expertise to Microsoft in customizing search for high end applications.
- European foothold. FAST is a Norwegian company with good market penetration in that area. They should extend Microsoft's reach and credibility in that region.