So I presented at Falkirk to an awesome audience about Search Server 2008 and had some interesting questions.  I've learned in my travels that geography plays a huge part in the sophistication of an audience.  Don't get me wrong, I am not insulting the caliber of talent in the room.  Presenting to the crowd, I now understood that many of the people simply didn't have the time to even explore new product offerings on their own time.  They were all too busy putting out the proverbial fires at their jobs.  In a lot of ways, this is the coolest crowd to present to because my ONLY job in the presentation is to educate and inspire them into imagining what could be possible with the technology.  One such question from the session was around building solutions that talk with ERP systems and other proprietary databases.

Two Longhorns, One Express Search Server *small*, Would You Like A Connector With That?

A connector is a type of add-in/plug-in that can be installed on most Microsoft server technologies.  Almost any mainstream server from Exchange, SharePoint, Windows Server, and now Search Server have connectors.  But what do connectors allow organizations to do? 

No doubt, many of you reading this have heard of companies like SAS, SAP, FAST, Symantec, and IBM.  I could name dozens of others but my point is that these companies deal in dedicated proprietary Line-of-Business (LOB) products and applications.  Because many organizations have been using old legacy systems for a while, it is not a simple matter to just "rip 'n' replace" infrastructure.  This is where connectors come in.

Connectors allow modern systems to easily interact and communicate with closed systems in a structured way.  A simple example is with Exchange sending mail outbound via an SMTP connector.  Before this connector, Exchange had no way of interfacing with public email systems.  This concept also exists with searching.  If the the primary goal of your organization is to find information regardless of where it is and what system it is using, AND if your infrastructure has a lot of niche databases and LOB systems, then you have to absolutely use supported connectors.  This is, of course, only if you think that all that information stored on your multi-million dollar solution is valuable.

What About Public Databases?

Increasingly, technology is infiltrating from the outside-in, with consumer technology outpacing enterprise infrastructure.  A classic example of this is "search" and unified communications.  People use Google, MSN Live, and Yahoo for search.  People use MSN Live, AOL, Yahoo for instant messaging and Skype for VOIP.  All this while most companies are still trying to figure out what an emoticon is.

Any CIO knows that to embrace consumer technology wholeheartedly in their organization is not practical for a few minor reasons, lets call them manageability, security, reliability, and compliance.  As the world becomes more connected, business will have to learn how to trust outside networks, or in other words, "federate" access and do it is a way that can be managed. 

Again "Federated Search" in Search Server 2008 is a great example of how any business, small, mid-size or enterprise can control and manage how employees find information.  By giving workers a unified search portal pulling in results from the intranet as well as popular search engines likes Live, Yahoo, and Amazon, search habits can be analyzed to improve discoverability.

Make Investments in "Open" Technologies

When I say "open," I don't mean open-source.  Open, in the context of business, means that something is accessible, interoperable, and dynamically manageable.  None of these values rule out open-source technologies but since we're on that note, I'll say that these haven't been key strengths in the Open-Source Software community.  An open technology allows businesses to connect many complex processes and work-flows to operate like a well-oiled machine.  An open technology is something that is usable by the lowest common denominator in the organization.  An open technology can be built upon and improved in a way that is controlled, structured, and predictable.  --VT

Resources:

Search Server 2008 Connectors

SharePoint Connectors -- Too many to list *if you have a list email me*

Exchange Connectors -- Lotus Notes, OpenSuse Evolution, SMTP, Meridio ECM

Office Communications Server Connectors - AOL, MSN Live, Yahoo, Salesforce, Meridio ECM

Unified Communications -- Various PBX hardware/software connectors

Outlook Connectors -- Hotmail support in Outlook, Meridio ECM

Windows Desktop Search --  click on "Personalize It"