Beta Man

Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express

Microsoft enters the growing market for enterprise search with its new solution.

The next major vendor battle-enterprise search-is underway. The Google Search Appliance is selling well, and Microsoft is looking to catch up. Microsoft has offered some search capabilities with SharePoint, and is now supplementing that with Search Server 2008, a new product that lets you index and search servers and storage devices on the local network.

Search Server has some significant hardware requirements, including support for multiple servers on a network. If you install on a single system only, it automatically installs Search Server Express, the product tested here.

Overall, it requires Windows Server 2003 (no word yet on Windows Server 2008 support), a 2.5GHz processor, 2GB of memory, Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 with ASP.NET 2.0 enabled, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft Windows Workflow Foundation Runtime Components.

These prerequisites take some time to configure on a system. However, Search Server 2008 itself installs like a charm, and uses an automatic configuration wizard to set itself up for use. I simply sat there while it did everything it needed to do in order to install and set search defaults. For the Express edition, you'll be able to install it and get started without reading a page of documentation.

Crawling Around
Once installed and configured, I worked with the Search Administration console to set up search parameters and prepare for user searches. While not especially visual, the Search Administration page provides a comprehensive and easy-to-use view into the search configuration. Everything you need to crawl network content sources, index results, keep track of queries and add new content sources is contained within this single Web page.

For example, the console provides excellent control over crawling parameters, such as setting content sources, crawling rules and crawl reset, as well as maintaining a crawling log. It also provides good capabilities for managing queries, including authoritative pages, federated locations and a strong ability to remove query results.

Setting up a crawl using the Search Administration console was easy. You simply define the content sources and let it go. It also reports on the status of crawl and the number of completed crawls, when they occurred, how long they took and if they were successful.

An especially nice feature is a set of wizards that provides assistance for common tasks such as adding new search users, federating the search results from multiple locations and securing the system. Search Server walks you through the steps to accomplish these tasks. Adding a new search user, for example, took only a few seconds.

Searching Is a Snap
From the standpoint of the user, Search Server provides its features through a standard Web page you can customize to match your organization's look and feel. Anyone who has used an Internet search engine should be able to search enterprise files with no difficulty. My own experiments with crawling, indexing and searching on a small test network determined that the product did a good job of finding and displaying results of simple searches based on keywords and more freeform queries.

In addition to Search Server and Search Server Express, Microsoft offers enterprise search features in Office SharePoint Server 2007. You can download the release candidate of Search Server Express at http://tinyurl.com/23mudj. At press time, it was also available as a virtual image to be run on Microsoft Virtual Server 2005.

I found Search Server 2008 Express easy to configure and use, and effective in small search spaces. It has some substantial hardware requirements, which may give smaller firms pause in terms of deploying it. If they have this kind of power, they're more likely to use it for IIS or app services, rather than search. For large firms, the full version can run across several hardware boxes and perform load balancing.

When Search Server is released, I think it will be treated as a logical extension to SharePoint. If a company has adopted SharePoint, at least at the enterprise level, IT will also likely choose Search Server to go along with it. The recent growth in the use of SharePoint as a content portal bodes well for the adoption of Search Server.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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