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September 09, 2014

Sometimes you're just wrong! (Maybe).

OK, this one falls into the 'eat your own words' category, so I have to come clean. Well, partly clean. Let me explain.

I was out of town last week, but just before I left I wrote an article asserting that Elasticsearch really isn't 'enterprise' search. The article drew alot of attention and comments from both sides of the argument. I have to say I still think that's the case, but an announcement by Microsoft seems to differ, and end up a net positive for Elasticsearch. Microsoft tells us that Elasticsearch is the platform under the covers of Microsoft's Azure search offering. It looks like you have a couple of options - as long as you're on Azure:

a) You can download and use the open source Elasticsearch platform available on GitHub; or

b) Use Microsoft's managed service 'Facetflow Elasticsearch' which incorporates (some of) the open source code in various places.

Microsoft calls this "a fully-managed real-time search and analytics service" while, according to ZDNet, it is for 'web and mobile application developers looking to incorporate full-text search into their applications'. 

Either way, it's certainly yet another step forward for Elasticsearch, and is a big step forward in visibility for the company. It's not clear what kind of revenue they will receive from the deal - Microsoft being relatively famous for being quite frugal. And after all, smart search folks like Kevin Green of Spantree Technology Group talk about its strengths and liabilities, saying it *is* fast ('wicked fast'); fault-tolerant; distributed and more. But it is not a crawler; a machine learner; a user-facing front end, and it is not secure. 

So I'll agree a partial 'mea culpa' is in order; adding capabilities to an open source project can make it more enterprise ready. But I think the jury may still be out on the rest of my piece. Stay tuned!


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I have to start with full disclosure: I've not (yet) *used* search on Azure. I've read about it. studied it - bit that's not the same as having deep expertise. [I'd invite other readers of this thread to pipe in!]

That said, Azure search and the Google Search Appliance are really two different animals.

GSA is a box - or cluster of boxes - that provides pretty decent 'enterprise search' when there's not much need to tweeking. There are many companies that use that many companies use it for public web search, even though the box is not generally as good as public Google because the box has no context for boosting other than word in title and date.
Like many other enterprise search platforms, there are connectors to crawl and index web, database, and other enterprise content repositories; The ability to provide synonyms; support security in the result lists, etc.

Azure Search seems to offer a highly scalable, customized solution, but as a 'service' accessible via a RESTful API. This says to me 'No Admin Console" and that bringing up and running search on Azure is a 'small matter of programming'.

Most companies that have a search need are looking for an installable product (box or software) that a business owner or IT staff person can set up manage, and tweak. Those that don't will often opt in for Solr, pretty much the industry standard in open source search. Lucidworks, my former employer, has an enterprise application 'Fusion' built on Solr which adds the UI-driven management not unlike GSA.

Elasticsearch, based on Lucene, the code that sits under Solr, is a good RESTful API. In fact, a few weeks back I read that Azure is using Elasticsearch for at least part of their Azure solution. It may be the Azure calls are a super- or sub-set of Elastic.

I will commit to dig in, learn out more, and write more about Azure and Elastic here, so stay tuned.

/s/ Miles

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