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Benefits of FAST Search compared to SharePoint 2010

With the release of SharePoint 2010, organisations can use either the “standard” search capabilities, which have been improved for this release, or can utilise the more advanced capabilities provided by FAST Search. Why should anyone look at the more advanced solution?

Below are some of the main considerations when deciding whether to use FAST for Enterprise Search over SharePoint 2010 Search.

Refine immediately, accurately

FAST uses refiners in a similar way to SharePoint search, however they are much faster and more accurate. Exact item counts can be provided in the standard refinement UI (e.g. “there are exactly 10 PowerPoint documents matching the query that were modified in the last six months”). The refiners can be used to provide a rich search experience by using different manipulation methods. Sorting can be carried out against any property being indexed, not just the date and relevancy options that are available in SharePoint Search.

FAST search refiners

User Interface Enhancements

Within the SharePoint results view, extra options are available, preview thumbnails for Microsoft Office documents and scrolling thumbnails of PowerPoint presentations. This saves people from having to open a document to view its contents, saving a lot of time and inconvenience.

Search preview thumbnails

Metadata Extraction

FAST allows for intelligent extraction of metadata when items are indexed, even when no formal structure exists. For example, company names, locations and people’s names can be extracted from plain text within a document. This data can then be used within the refinement options available to end users.

Advanced Engine enabling Business Intelligence-style tasks

With the advanced indexing, querying and metadata extraction, many time consuming business intelligence activities can be performed on the fly with no pre-processing. Custom queries can be setup using FQL, a native query language for FAST. This provides a complete toolbox even when building the most advanced queries.

User Customisation

Ranking and refinement can be configured based upon a user’s role within the organisation. For example, when a user in the sales department searches for information related to “Company A”, company details and sales performance figures might appear first;  if a user in a Software Architect role performs the same search, technical documentation might be the highest ranked.

Larger scale than SharePoint

SharePoint Search 2010 scales up to 100 million items; FAST, however, can scale over 500+ million items.

Which options should you choose?

As an enterprise-wide search solution, FAST is the best option: it offers greater capacity, flexibility and intelligence over SharePoint Search.

Fortunately the upgrade path between SharePoint and FAST has improved dramatically in SharePoint 2010. Now that FAST is part of the SharePoint model, it is easy to move an existing setup of SharePoint Search over to FAST, without duplicating a large amount of search configuration.

From a development perspective, both SharePoint and FAST share the same programming interfaces, therefore custom applications built for SharePoint Search will migrate over to FAST without the need for reengineering.

Cost-wise, SharePoint Search can be used with a SharePoint Standard Server licence and Standard CALs for users accessing SharePoint. With FAST, a SharePoint Enterprise Server licence is required, with Enterprise CALs for users accessing FAST Search and other enterprise features and a FAST Search Server licence for each server running FAST Search software.

Posted by: Bryce Telford, Developer | 04 August 2010

Tags: SharePoint 2010, Search, FAST

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