Vedant Kulshreshtha

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

FAST ESP: The Product and its Roadmap

FAST ESP: The Product and its Roadmap

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This is the first post from a planned series on the FAST ESP platform to increase product awareness in the SharePoint community. This post builds on the basic FAST information I shared in my blog post – “FAST and SharePoint 2007” last month.

Target Segment

The enterprise search market is broken down into three major segments: high-end, infrastructure, and entry-level. Microsoft offers a comprehensive portfolio of search solutions: at the entry-level, Search Server Express delivers enterprise-class search capabilities as a free download; in the mid-tier, SharePoint offers search integrated with other core workloads; and at the high-end, FAST ESP (Enterprise Search Platform) provides best-in-class capabilities for the most demanding search applications in both internal and customer-facing scenarios. Each of the three offerings targets a specific set of customer needs, and each is an important part of Microsoft’s enterprise search product portfolio.

The FAST ESP platform supports linear scalability, real-time characteristics and high result relevance without compromising performance. The system provides sub-second responses to an extremely large number of simultaneous queries through an easy to deploy and maintain, web-based architecture that uses low-cost, high performance computers to deliver a linearly scalable solution. Main competitors of FAST ESP are Autonomy and Endeca.

What makes FAST ESP Unique?

FAST ESP is unique because of its strength in three core areas:

  • User interaction - FAST ESP provides a powerful, flexible framework for creating user experiences
  • Content capture and refinement - With its open pipeline architecture, ESP offers unique capabilities for content processing
  • Contextual indexing and matching -  ESP creates a rich index that can be used to match people to information

FAST ESP allows you to create unique user experiences, enabling people to explore and assimilate vast amounts of information.

  • Extreme Performance. Index up to billions of documents and maintain thousands of queries per second performance
  • Extensible Query and Index Processing. Tailor relevancy and knowledge management by inserting new taxonomy or metadata during indexing, query, or results processing.
  • Out-of-the-box Navigation and Clustering. Help users explore and assimilate information with faceted search and other navigational elements.
  • SharePoint Connectivity. Connect FAST ESP to SharePoint Server 2007 for a business productivity platform that can handle your most demanding search requirements.

In rest of the FAST ESP post series, I will attempt to drill down points mentioned above and would help you differentiate it from search in SharePoint 2007. You can refer to the FAST ESP product page for more details on the product, data sheet and links to case studies.

FAST powers search in many of the well known Internet websites like: CareerBuilder, Best Buy, Financial Times, Times Archive.You can go to these websites and experience its power.

Typical FAST ESP Applications

Leveraging on its features, FAST ESP can power lot of unique solution scenario for customers which are very different from what you would build using SharePoint 2007. Customers who buy these solutions value the configurability required to tune these applications to meet very specific requirements.

Internal (Intranet) applications might include:

  • Research portals which search large volumes of information or which have relevance tailored for specific types of information
  • Unified customer views which aggregate customer information from a variety of sources into a single, interactive portal
  • Competitive intelligence applications which collect, store, and analyze information about competitors
  • Federation networks which retrieve results from multiple search systems and intelligently rank these results together
  • Structured data search which accommodates a wide variety of data sources
  • Compliance and risk management applications which investigate and analyze information and recognize patterns

Customer facing (Internet) applications include:

  • E-commerce applications which allow customers to navigate for products and which allow business to manage product lines and promotions
  • Classifieds applications which aggregate sales listings from across the web
  • Premium content portals which host rich media content which allow media and publishing companies will monetize
  • Directories which index people, businesses, and other listings
  • Advertising applications which allow companies to monetize assets on public-facing websites
  • Customer self-service portals which allow customers to get answers to questions (e.g. technical support)

What are FAST ESP Add-Ons?

FAST ESP add-ons extend and enrich the capabilities of the FAST enterprise search platform.

  • Content spotlighting with FAST Featured Content - allows site owners to highlight contextually-relevant content without IT assistance. FAST Featured Content is ideal for online search and merchandising solutions that allow marketers to highlight different products, services or content based on their business objectives
  • Data normalization with FAST Data Cleansing - Using advanced linguistics and “fuzzy matching” technology, FAST Data Cleansing resolves conflicts and removing duplicates from data sources prior to indexing. ideal for search solutions that connect to similar yet inconsistent or overlapping data repositories such as product catalogs or CRM systems
  • Location-aware search with FAST GeoSearch - adds location-awareness to FAST ESP, filtering and ranking documents based on their geographical distance from a given source position – typically the position of the end user. Ideal for online retail and online directory solutions
  • Advanced connectivity with FAST Connectors - FAST Connectors help connect FAST ESP to common data sources for fast and accurate content capture, refinement and indexing

Where to learn more?

FAST Knowledge Center – lot of white papers, analyst reports, podcasts, videos and glossary

FAST University - structured learning service that provides technical training for customers and partners who want to gain an in-depth understanding of FAST search technology.

Enterprise Search Roadmap Updates

During the Fast Forward ’09 summit in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced an update to its enterprise search products portfolio. 2 new products have been introduced:

  • FAST Search for SharePoint
  • FAST Search for Internet Business.

Quoting the Microsoft Press Release, Microsoft Unveils New Enterprise Search Road Map  - “... FAST Search for SharePoint, a new search server that will add the high-end search capabilities of FAST ESP into Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, will be available as a part of the next release of the Microsoft Office system. For customers who are interested in the product, Microsoft also announced ESP for SharePoint, a special offering that allows customers to purchase high-end search capabilities today, with a defined licensing path to FAST Search for SharePoint when it becomes available. …”

For more details, refer to following links:

FAST Froward Blog - Microsoft Announces Plans for New FAST Products

TrendWatch Blog - Microsoft discloses plans for FAST ESP

Enterprise Search Blog - Roadmap for FAST products inside of Microsoft - FAST Forward '09 Coverage

Michael Gannotti’s Blog - ESP For SharePoint Announced!!! One More Reason For SharePoint Enterprise

In addition to these updates, Microsoft continues to innovate FAST ESP as a high-end enterprise search platform for use on Unix and Linux operating systems also.

Analyst Speak - Current

Given below are some links to current analyst reports on Enterprise search technology vendors including Microsoft/FAST.

Gartner - Microsoft Plan Establishes Likely Path to Generalist Search Strength [February 2009]

Gartner - Magic Quadrant for Information Access Technology [September 2008]

Forrester- Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Search, Q2 2008 [May 2008]

CMSWatch - Enterprise Search Vendor Landscape, Circa 2008 [Feb 2008]

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