Microsoft's free enterprise search is a must try

Summary:At the Heroes Happens {here} event in LA yesterday which saw the launch* of Windows Server 2008, one of the relatively hidden gems of the event in my opinion was Microsoft's free** Search Server 2008 Express.  It's is a streamline install of Office SharePoint Server 2007 with almost all the enterprise search features that most users would want and is a must download for any Windows Server shop.

At the Heroes Happens {here} event in LA yesterday which saw the launch* of Windows Server 2008, one of the relatively hidden gems of the event in my opinion was Microsoft's free** Search Server 2008 Express.  It's is a streamline install of Office SharePoint Server 2007 with almost all the enterprise search features that most users would want and is a must download for any Windows Server shop.

Even if you didn't own Windows Server 2003, 2003 R2, or 2008, it would seem like a great way to build a very cheap enterprise search engine appliance with a minimal Windows Server 2003 or above license and a simple 1U server for less than $2000 which is a LOT less than a $30K starting price Google Search Engine appliance with a 500K document cap.  Update 7:28PM - Wiredguy in the talkback pointed out that Google's Mini search appliance starts at $3K, but that only indexes 50K documents and it doesn't tie in to Active Directory as seamlessly and lacks Exchange support.  If you're a Windows shop with an IIS server sitting around with low CPU utilization which is quote common, adding Microsoft's Search Server 2008 Express costs nothing.

So why would you want an enterprise search engine for your company or organization?  Windows Vista (and XP users who add Windows Desktop Search or Google Desktop Search) know how useful it is to have relatively instant indexed search results for any document or email in their computer.  But those benefits stop at the local computer because you don't want every user crawling the network data resources redundantly since it would bring the whole network and server infrastructure to a halt.

An enterprise search engine gives you a centralized intranet website where users could go to a URL like search.mycompany.com and find any document in their entire corporate LAN (and to a lesser extent the WAN and some Internet sites due to bandwidth considerations).  Google's online search engine is great but it's stopped dead in its tracks at the corporate firewall and there's no way it can search your Exchange or Lotus Notes mail server or your file server documents.  The enterprise search engine bridges an essential gap between desktop search and google.com.  Documents or emails that would have been glossed over and forgotten about instantly pop up on the enterprise search server.

The search results are security-trimmed and active directory integrated so that the user will only see the documents that they have permissions to access.  With an Intranet IIS web server set for seamless Active Directory authentication, the user merely goes to the search portal and they're logged in automatically.  The server can also be tuned to crawl the network at off-peak hours with full or incremental searches.

Microsoft's Search Server Express comes preloaded with the following search connectors.

  • File servers
  • Web sites
  • SharePoint websites
  • Exchange Server public folders
  • Lotus Notes

To make Search Server 2008 Express work, you'll either need a free SQL Server 2005 Express database backend or Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and above.  Using the free SQL Express will limit the server to 1 GB and 4 GB database size.  Under most document sizes, a 4 GB index should allow you to index more files than the 500K document cap imposed by the $30K edition of the Google Search Engine appliance.  Buying a SQL server license will still end up being far cheaper than buying the Google appliance.  No matter what your opinion of Microsoft, I think this is one of those things that's definitely worth a try.  Enterprise search is finally affordable and it should become a fixture in any company's server room or datacenter.

 

* This was also a 3-month post launch party for Visual Studio 2008 and 6-month pre-launch party for SQL Server 2008.

** People who already own a copy of Windows Server 2003, 2003 R2, or 2008.

Topics: Microsoft, Browser, Google, Hardware, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, Windows

About

George Ou, a former ZDNet blogger, is an IT consultant specializing in Servers, Microsoft, Cisco, Switches, Routers, Firewalls, IDS, VPN, Wireless LAN, Security, and IT infrastructure and architecture.

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