In my last article we looked at a 'real world' scenario where SharePoint 2007 (MOSS) had been deployed for enterprise search in a pragmatic fashion using a phased approach. This time we will build on the theme of search and look at the new features that have been added to SharePoint 2010.

Search on its own is no panacea and SharePoint 2010 (news, site) offers upgraded features in other important and related domains including vast improvements in metadata management.

In this look at search I want to concentrate on three elements in particular:

  1. The continued development of a 'family' of products
  2. The new features added to the base product
  3. The additional features brought by FAST Search Server for SharePoint 2010

Evolution of a Whole Family

Search in SharePoint remains a family affair, you can get in on the ground level for free with Search Server Express -- with no document limits if you already own SQL Server licenses -- for testing and proof of concept for enterprise search in your organization. You may then realize that simply putting a search engine over your diverse data stores in not the simple answer you thought it might be, and buy the full on SharePoint 2010 product to leverage document management and collaboration features.

Once you have the full SharePoint product, you may decide that you need the added features brought by paying for 'FAST Search Server for Sharepoint.'

I have attended a number of Microsoft briefings, both at the MS Canada HQ and on our own premises, one of which focused entirely on the differences between the core product and the FAST add on. I was given permission to share the content of those briefings.

Below is a simplified version of an MS slide showing the differences across the product family:

SP2010 search products graphic.png
Improvements to Search in the core SharePoint 2010 product

Microsoft marketing focuses on 3 target audiences with the following messages:

  • End Users with “Go beyond the search box” -- improvements to the search experience, including user interfaces and ability to search from the desktop or mobile device, and a focus on people and social search.
  • IT Professionals with “Eliminate compromise between managability and capability” -- in other words here is a system with both best of breed search features, but also one that is easy to manage. Access both unstructured and structured content using Business Connectivity Services (BCS) and other federated search options.
  • Developers with “Do more with search” -- a call to action to use the available tool sets to extend the base platform and build search solutions for existing applications (e.g. ERP and CRM) but also go further and build search centric applications.

Microsoft says that they have listened to the user community and focused on solving pain points when upgrading the base SharePoint 2010 platform to improve search. This has resulted in the following enhancements:

  • Scalability – both content scalability (size of the corpus) and query performance scalability via multiple crawlers, and the ability to both partition and mirror the index.
  • Social and people search – a big element of the improvements in SP2010, allowing search to surface the tacit knowledge stored inside your people by allowing those people themselves to be found. This is heavily tied into the social side of SharePoint such as My Sites and profiles.
  • Relevance – improved algorithms for better matching and ranking capabilities and improved language support.
  • Platform – improvements to increase customization, to allow developers to extend the platform and build new applications.
  • Management & reliability – including admin webparts, scriptable admin (Windows PowerShell) and improved monitoring including SCOM support.
  • Federation – via OpenSearch with client side software including IE8, Firefox and Windows 7 plus federated providers including Bing, SharePoint 2010 and any searchable RSS feeds and SQL result sets.
  • User Experience – improved user interfaces, including 'visual' navigation, see the screen shot below:

SP2010 search results interface.png

Microsoft provides information including a downloadable data sheet and a video highlighting the many features of SharePoint search.

However there is a caveat to keep in mind when watching this video -- it does not specifically note which features being shown and described are base SharePoint 2010 and which are provided by the FAST Search Server for SharePoint product, at additional cost.

Integration with FAST

So what does the integration with the additional FAST Search Server product bring to the party? Well it provides a number of additional elements which you may find useful, both in an intranet scenario, if you have sophisticated requirements, but also in the external website scenario, especially if you want to build a 'guided navigation' type interface for e-Commerce for example.

In summary FAST adds the following features:

  • Thumbnails & previews and 'visual best bets'
  • Deep refiners with counts (i.e. faceted search with a results count for each facet)
  • User context from user profile and multiple relevance profiles
  • Sorting on any property and similarity search
  • Broader, better language support
  • Content processing pipeline and entity extraction
  • Tunable relevance ranking and a richer query language

Some of these elements are shown in the screen shot below:

FAST for SP2010 UI.png

A Family Affair

Microsoft retains the family of products approach, letting you evaluate features using Search Server Express for free. There are some good enhancements to the base product, especially when viewed alongside enhancements to metadata management and social collaboration. But for the really high end features your going to have to pay the additional costs for FAST.