Search is ubiquitous in the world of the Internet. Everyone starts their questions by going to Google (or for a small minority Bing) and typing in their query as the entry to the Internet. The expectation is that the results are going to be exactly what you are looking for, and if that doesn't work out, adding a second term will get you there.

In the Enterprise though, this is not always the case. Data exists in disparate system, files live on file shares, users keep documents on their hard drive, etc. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that the data users need is not discoverable, for a variety of reasons. As a result, users generally don't regard search within the walls of the enterprise like they do search outside of the Enterprise. Instead of starting at the search page, they start at the application that hosts their data and search. This is a source of inefficiency. Additionally, what we are searching for may be the person within our organization who knows the most about a given topic so we can do research ourselves or resolve an issue. The good news is that SharePoint 2010 and its search functionality can enable an organization to overcome these inefficiencies or weaknesses.

SharePoint 2010 has great built-in Enterprise search functionality which can certainly help solve these problems. The downside is it can get a bit confusing because there are many variations of the Microsoft search product offering. The products, with a description are:

  • SharePoint Foundation 2010 Search - This is the search engine that ships with SharePoint foundation. It is limited to a single site collection (or in non-SharePoint speak, a single site) and cannot index the content and data external to that given site.
  • Search Server 2010 Express - Search Server Express is a standalone product that is available and free. It supports external content sources and search federation. It is limited in its capability to scale to your organization's needs.
  • Search Server 2010 - This is the full product upgrade from Search Server Express. It is an Enterprise search engine that can scale across multiple servers. The product is focused for organizations that are not using SharePoint 2010 and can provide a great product offering for your internal or public website needs.
  • SharePoint Server 2010 Search - The search available in SharePoint server 2010 includes all of the Search Server 2010 functionality but also includes features specific to SharePoint. Examples of this include taxonomy and people search.
  • FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint - FAST is Microsoft's advanced search functionality. It is used by many organizations that need highly scalable and functional requirements. An example would be the Best Buy site, which uses FAST search to provide their categories. The great part about SharePoint search, starting with Search Server 2010, is the ability to integrate data from other systems within your Enterprise. Using the Business Connectivity Services functionality (a feature of SharePoint itself) with SharePoint search, you can integrate into Line of Business (LOB) applications. For example, if you have customer information and contacts in a CRM application, SharePoint can be setup to index that information and make it part of the results that are returned when users search from within your SharePoint site.

Similarly, with the ability to search LOB applications, advanced versions of SharePoint allow search sources to be external to the server. SharePoint calls these content sources, and they can be a variety of types of data. Examples include corporate Intranet sites that aren't hosted in SharePoint, external file systems, and Internet sites. This is the majority of the data that organizations are interested in, all at the tip of employees' fingers.

Some examples of what customers have done with SharePoint search:

  • Make a file server drive that has 15 years of data quickly accessible via your SharePoint searches
  • Use SharePoint search to bring in product information from an ERP system with accompanying price as well as links to the ERP system
  • Use Google News and other external news sources to mine information about competitors As you can see, leveraging SharePoint search beyond its out-of-the-box functionality can quickly turn your corporate Intranet into the starting point for information for all your knowledge workers!

This blog post originally appeared at Skyline Technologies (