Enterprise Search with MOSS 2007

Gayan Peiris sorts through the many options available for enterprise search with SharePoint.  Gayan Peiris is a SharePoint Technology Specialist (TSP) at Microsoft Australia who has written many articles, reviews and columns for various online publications and has been a contributing author for a SharePoint book. He is a frequent speaker at Microsoft conferences on SharePoint technology. 

The huge success of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 has come about because it answered a pressing need for a collaboration platform for enterprise computing. However there is more to SharePoint than just collaboration, this is just one of the important functions it provides alongside social computing, portals, business intelligence and enterprise content management.

SharePoint has always included Search functionality, and the integration of technology acquired from FAST provides further expansion of SharePoint's enterprise search capabilities.
Search Server 2008 is the entry-level offering for MOSS 2007 while FAST Search provides the premium enterprise search solution. There are two editions of Search Server presently available from Microsoft: Search Server 2008 Express (free download) and Search Server 2008. Both provide the same functionality, but the Express version can only be installed in a single server. Search Server can be installed in multiple servers for high availability.

When SharePoint 2010 is released, the options will be similar: Search Server 2010 Express, SharePoint Server 2010 and FAST. FAST will contain multiple products depending on whether it is being used for an internal facing web site, the Internet or extranet.

There is no limit to the amount of documents that can be indexed and searched via the standard installation of MOSS 2007, so SharePoint is positioned to meet your enterprise search needs no matter how big or small they are.

What do you get out of the box?

Search components get configured as you install SharePoint in your environment. This includes the ability to search all of the content stored in your SharePoint server as well as user profiles
The profile information is available for searching by text or property.

After you import content into your SharePoint server and establish user profiles, the next step is to index all of this content.

Search capabilities are available before the indexing process is completed. A full index of a file share with 30GB of content can take some time but because of continues propagation, you don’t have to wait till indexing process is fully completed. Users will get access to content it is indexed. You can also schedule an incremental crawl just to pick up the updated information only.

In addition to the content you import to your SharePoint server, there are a number of other search locations supported out of the box. These include Web sites (internal and external http), file shares, Exchange public folders and Lotus Notes databases.

The ability to set up these locations to be searched is available via the MOSS 2007 search administration pages which can be accessed through a browser.

You can ensure that users will only see search results that they have access to by use of SharePoint support query and index time security trimming.

The unified administration dashboard provides a simple view of your search infrastructure and crawl status. It is here that you can set up and manage federated search locations as well as modify search settings.

An administrator can review common tasks, view search and query reports and tune the relevancy ranking of search results. It is possible to define “authoritative sites” or remove sites that are not relevant (such as archive repositories).

The SharePoint Search API can be accessed by developers to create custom built solutions, or via out of the box web services.

We have seen many record management vendors making their document repositories searchable via SharePoint to extend the SharePoint search platform.

Search Server 2008 supports Documentum and FileNet as indexing search connectors
You can start a search in multiple locations within a SharePoint site. This can be via the search box at the top right hand corner of every page, via the advanced search page or a search centre "site" that comes as a built in template.

The search centre comes with tabbed interfaces to search “All Content” or “People”. You can extend the tabs as you add more content locations or narrow the search locations. For example, you can search your customer’s information on your CRM system and create separate tabs just to search customers.

Search results are displayed according to different types of content. For example, Word documents will contain metadata fields such as author and description. People search results will display metadata such as email address and job title as it is relevant for the content.

You can customise these search results according to your preference depending on the metadata you want to display. The search results can be refined by modified date or relevancy.
“Did you mean” query correction is part of the functionality available. Duplicate or similar search results will be grouped together (Duplicate collapsing) rather than displaying them individually.

Best bets (editorial results) can be set up to display accurate search results as required in order to ensure you are able to target the search results that you want your users to access.

For example, you can set up to display your Human Resource (HR) department site as the preferred search result when someone searches for “leave request” form. You can also set up synonym search for example using a key word such as “holiday” which would be equivalent to the word “leave” by returning the same search results on both query terms.

Users can set up RSS and Alerts fields to be notified of new search results relevant to a query term. This will ensure that users can proactively extract the relevant information without having to re-run the query term in regular intervals. Users will be notified via email or access via RSS reader when new content becomes available.

People and Expertise Search

The ability to search people and expertise is one of the main differences from other search engines.

In addition to searching for content related to a particular topic, users may want to be guided towards an expert on the subject.

SharePoint enables connections between people using either user profile or social networking information. The user profile information is integrated using active directory, LDAP or any structured repository that contains people’s information. You can search on a person’s skill set or their expertise instead of having to enter a name in the search box.

People search results are displayed according to the social distance between the search results and the person doing the search. SharePoint allows you to manage your colleagues as part of your “mySite”(a SharePoint site for individual users within the organisation which contains social computing and networking capabilities).

The above intelligence will be brought across as part of people search results. The idea is to display results close to your social network that will increase the probability of actioning a conversation. You can also refine the search using different metadata fields (for example job title) and sort the results either by relevancy or social distance.

You can directly communicate with the search result if you have a unified communication approach via Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS). A round indicator next to the search results will display the availability of that person i.e. whether they are free, busy, away or offline.

You can action an instant messaging conversation or voice call straight from the search result page.

Clicking on the name of the selected search result will display the publicly available information of the searched person on their public “mySite”. This page includes information about the person, organisation hierarchy, what’s common between you and the search result person, their colleagues in addition to other information.

Federated Search

SharePoint supports federated search with other applications, services and repositories using the “OpenSearch” standard.

There are situations where you do not need SharePoint to index other repositories. In this instance, all that will be required is to simply federate with them and display the search results.
In this situation, SharePoint will pass search queries to a target information source and will display the return search results. For example displaying search results for a query term from internal SharePoint sites and Bing search engine.

You can create federated locations in SharePoint or use existing federated search connectors. In addition it is possible to promptly import or export federated locations using packaged Federated Location Definition (.FLD) files.

Business Data Catalog (BDC)

Structured data can be searched within databases using BDC as part of Enterprise CAL SharePoint functionality. BDC lets you connect your line of business applications (LOB) such as SAP, SQL or your HR systems to SharePoint without having to write any code.

This will allow you to display LOB application data in SharePoint locations such as document libraries, user profile and list as a read only view. BDC also supports searching content within LOB applications via SharePoint without having to custom develop protocol handlers or iFilters. For example searching Siebel data through SharePoint.

Organisations can get a taste of the power of enterprise search with the free Search Server 2008 Express, then purchase Search Sever 2008 to add support for structured data, searching for expertise and other MOSS workloads (e.g. portals, collaboration, enterprise content management, online forms and workflow, BI and social computing).

FAST is the ultimate platform for MOSS 2007, and a cheaper option if you already have SharePoint Enterprise Client Access Licenses (CALs) which means you need only purchase a FAST server license.

FAST can support greater relevancy, content processing (capabilities such as format conversion, language detection, and entity extraction), flexible users interface, advanced linguistics support, such as support for Asian languages and extreme scalability (sub-second response time with the ability to handle millions to billions of documents) and many more capabilities than MOSS search.