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January 22, 2008

Is hosted / managed search behind the Microsoft FAST acquisition?

What does Microsoft the acquisition of FAST mean for the industry?

We've been sifting through the information available around the web and from our contacts in the enterprise search space, and we are beginning to see some signals come through the noise.

First, this is still an early story in the consolidation that will continue to take place over the next few years. Microsoft will operate FAST as a 'wholly owned subsidiary', which may well be a first for Microsoft - I'm not sure.  In addition, FAST seems to be heads-down on their release schedule, with some cool stuff rumored to be on the way.

In the Microsoft-FAST conference call (which will be available at that link through June 9th, 2008 - scroll to the Teleconference link), Microsoft's Jeff Raikes had little to say about how the integration would go forward, but I thought he dropped an interesting hint while answering an question from a JP Morgan analyst. He was talking about how the two technologies might fit when he said:

"Obviously, we feel one of our great strengths is that we'll bring to customers the power of on-premise software with software services; that combination can bring  customers greater capability plus we can give customers the power of choice  in terms of deployment models. So without going in greater detail which I wouldn't be able to do today ... I can just simply say that part of what we will look at ... will be to marry the strengths that we have with our software plus services with what FAST is doing in Enterprise Search."

Now, taken by itself it all sounds pretty generic. But it was his emphasis on the word "with" above - and on the parts about software as a service. Could it be Microsoft  wants FAST for the hosted/managed enterprise search solution that FAST can offer its customers? No enterprise data center; no need for in-house expertise; no pesky updates to install; no load-balancing to manage. And FAST can offer this data center service either fully hosted or remotely by connecting into the enterprise and providing only search management services.

Could Jeff be admitting that Microsoft wants to look towards more enterprise services using a hosted model - say something like his friends in Mountain View offer? Only time will tell!

It sure makes the FASTForward'08 user conference a must-see event.

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