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Enterprise search options for SharePoint 2010

One of the biggest challenges facing most organisations is cataloguing and retrieving content from their many disparate systems. The sheer number of systems (including document management, CRM, and financial systems, amongst others) within which that information might reside can be quite staggering – anyone who actually steps back and attempts to count the number of such repositories is usually surprised at large number of them.

Thankfully, in recent years the movement towards enterprise search has created a potential solution for this challenge. Enterprise search enables us to pull this information together in a meaningful way that enables people to carry out their tasks without having to think “Where is this information?” or “How can I find this?”

With such a wide variety of information, which is often a combination of unstructured (e.g. text) and structured (e.g. reports or other types of numeric data), Enterprise Search is considered significantly more challenging than an Internet-focused search, which usually has to deal with the content on web pages alone.

Microsoft SharePoint provides an ideal solution for enterprise search, and as more and more systems are either based on or connected to SharePoint, large repositories of information can be accessed. It’s also possible to integrate nearly any backend system with SharePoint search, further extending its reach in today’s organisations.

SharePoint 2010 presents a major step forward in Enterprise Search with two main options organisations need to consider: the highly improved SharePoint Server 2010 or FAST Search for SharePoint 2010; the latter offering brings Enterprise Search to a “best in class” level within the familiar SharePoint user experience.

As we have noted elsewhere, FAST was acquired by Microsoft in 2008 to enhance the enterprise search options available to its customers. While FAST ESP was available for MOSS 2007 as a series of web parts, the cost of licensing and setup was somewhat prohibitive to many organisations. With the release of the 2010 range, FAST has been greatly enhanced to work within SharePoint, while retaining the key features and benefits from the standalone product. Commercially, the FAST solution for SharePoint is also more attractive.

Improvements from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010

If you’re an existing user of SharePoint, there are a number of key improvements that have been made that help to justify the upgrade to the latest release. Below are some of the main benefits for using SharePoint 2010 over the current SharePoint 2007 offering.

User Interface Enhancements

The user interface within the Search Centre of SharePoint 2010 has been tidied up and significantly improved. Search refinement options (facets) are now available out of the box, for example the ability to drill down into results and refine it to “PowerPoint documents that were updated in last six months” can be performed with two mouse clicks. There is also the ability to open any office document directly in the browser using the Office Web Applications, edit documents and even launch a slideshow directly from SharePoint.

Social Features

Search takes advantage of the various social features offered in SharePoint 2010, for example, more users indicating they “like” an item, the higher it will get ranked. Similarly click-through relevancy is measured on search results, so the more users clicking on a result, the higher the item will get ranked.


SharePoint 2010 ranking screenshot


Improved Engine

The underlying indexing and ranking systems have been improved to help efficiency and improve the chance of finding the information faster.


Search leverages Business Connectivity Services (BCS) within SharePoint to enable retrieval of information from various systems already in place within an Enterprise. For example, a customer portal which contains not just customer information but also sales reports and email based communication could be viewed in a single location despite the many systems the data is housed in.


The back-end of Search has been modified to remove any single point of failure or bottleneck. It is now possible to scale all parts of indexing, crawling, storage and querying with hardware.

In a second post, I will look at the search options available to organisations who have, or are moving to, Microsoft SharePoint 2010.

Posted by: Bryce Telford, Developer | 23 June 2010

Tags: SharePoint 2010, Search, Search Technologies, FAST

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