X1 Technologies Dives into the SharePoint Search Channel

May 29, 2008

X1 Technologies blipped my radar when a source in Mountain View, California, told me that Yahoo inked a deal with X1 for search. You can learn more about X1 and its patent search technology here. The company’s tagline is “a single interface for secure business search”. I’ve been pleased with my X1 search experiences, and in my discussion of X1 as an option for IBM systems, I identified its technology as one well worth a close look.

The Yahoo Connection

Troubled Yahoo–despite its lousy ad system, Panama–has some sharp search and information retrieval wizards. When a point solution for search is needed, these wizards can pinpoint a vendor who can provide a quick fix for a findability ailment. Yahoo, for example, licensed the InQuira system to power the company’s customer support system. You are getting natural language help from InQuira, not Yahoo’s own search system. When Google aced Yahoo with email search, Yahoo’s engineers poked around and licensed Stata Labs’ technology. Yahoo can identify good technology, but that’s now a core weakness. Instead of an integrated search platform, Yahoo uses the Baskin-Robbins’ approach–many different flavors. Some flavors change without warning. The X1 solution deployed by Yahoo in its toolbar offered some useful features; namely, fast indexing and on-the-fly document display.

I took a look at X1 Technologies and learned that its engine indexed quickly. I found the interface geared to an email user, not a dinosaur like me. All in all, I liked the performance and the ability to filter results. Over the years, I tested different versions of the system and concluded that it was worth a look, particularly if the user community wanted an Outlook-type interface and zippy indexing.

X1: Signing Up with MSFT

I learned on May 27, 2008, that X1 made the jump into the Microsoft channel and its fast-moving currents. As you know, a company can sync up with Microsoft, send an engineer to two to Microsoft’s training courses, and demonstrate that its software doesn’t foul up SharePoint or some other “core” Microsoft product. In my experience, third-party software is often more stable than Microsoft’s “core” technology. A “hot fix” can produce some exciting SharePoint moments in my experience. I also enjoy SQLServer back ups that appear to complete and then upon testing, demonstrate a less-the-charming ability to rebuild the data set. Sigh.

X1 offered a desktop search system, free from Yahoo at one time and a modest charge if you bought the commercial version of the product. Now the company offers its X1 Enterprise Search Suite. The technical dope is here. The features of this Microsoft-certified system include:

  • Ability to search the contents of Microsoft servers, including Exchange and SharePoint servers
  • Federated results; that is, obtaining documents from different servers and displaying a single results list with duplicates removed
  • Support for Microsoft’s security model, Microsoft clustering, etc.
  • Connectors for more than 400 file types, including the Symantec Enterprise Vault.

x1 interface

With more than 12,000 SharePoint licensees and a rumored 65 million users–a estimate which I doubt–of SharePoint search, X1 joins a number of other prominent enterprise search vendors as Certified Gold partners.

The certification is a “hunting license” and in some cases, Microsoft’s regional sales offices and consulting engineers will refer customers to vendors who can make SharePoint better. These Certified Partners compete with Microsoft’s native SharePoint search system. I have written about these in the first three editions of the Enterprise Search Report and in this Web log here, so there’s not much incentive for me to rehash my troubles with MOSS and ESS. (One vendor told me he liked my SharePoint equation, MOSS + ESS = MESS.)

Microsoft obviously wants software developers to create SharePoint add ins. Over the years, Microsoft has cultivated relationships with the original Mondosoft (now part of SurfRay in Denmark). Coveo, the Canadian vendor in the news for winning an award for software excellence and ISYS Search Software are two very good ways to cure the aches and pains of the “native” SharePoint search solutions. My recollection is that most search vendors have some type of support for SharePoint. And why not? There are quite a few people who embrace SharePoint as a low-cost solution to information management woes. These believers discover that the system is tough to navigate and some types of information cannot be located in a meaningful way without writing scripts.

SharePoint consulting is a land office business. Fast Search & Transfer jumped on the SharePoint bandwagon with its connector for SharePoint. Fast Search & Transfer–happiest when running on Linux–knew that there was money to be made because native SharePoint search gets tangled in its socks when it has to index and update content collections with more than 49 million documents. Fast Search, now part of Microsoft, allows Microsoft to provide a Microsoft “solution” where big collections are required. At least, that is the theory as I understand it.

Riptides, Rocks, and Sharks

Now what about channel currents?

You have heard of rip tides, right? These are flows of water that are planar, often running at angles to observable water flows. Inexperienced swimmers can dive under a wave and find themselves pulled away from shore to at an unexpected angle to the wave direction. In some conditions, inexperience leads to increased risk.

My view is that Microsoft is creating a situation in which certain vendors of SharePoint search will themselves in a position of increased risk. (Please, PR people, this is my opinion, and I don’t want to participate in a Webinar (an awful word) to learn how silly my opinion is. Thanks in advance!)

Microsoft offers its own versions of SharePoint search. Microsoft owns Fast Search & Transfer and its SharePoint connector. Microsoft has deals with major search vendors so these folks can sell search to SharePoint licensees. In short, Microsoft is launching at the shore wave after wave of search activity.

The likelihood of currents triggering dangerous rip tides is increasing. Here’s why:

  • A big Microsoft account licenses a search system from a Certified Partner. Microsoft wants that business for itself. Microsoft’s regional offices make an effort to swing the deal to a SharePoint-Fast solution. This translates to more money “sticking” with Microsoft. Don’t forget the consulting fees. These can be greater than the search annual license fee. There is a cash incentive in the Microsoft compensation scheme to get the juicy accounts for the home team.
  • A high-profile account chooses a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner’s search system. It doesn’t matter whose it is. The partner publicizes the success and starts making sales to other high-profile Microsoft SharePoint customers. The viral marketing engines get infected. Microsoft gets a cold in its shiniest accounts. Good for the Certified Partner, bad for the SharePoint group.
  • A non-Microsoft partner–say, for the sake of argument, Google–plops a GB-8008 into a SharePoint environment. A Google partner like my son’s Adhere Solutions makes this work. Now Microsoft has a migraine. My son’s making SharePoint content accessible without paying the Microsoft certification fees is simply heretical. The GOOG could issues a news release about this “success”, thus tweaking the giant of Redmond.
  • Microsoft installs Fast Search. The customer is not happy. The customer seeks an alternative, noting in the request for proposal that the solution must not be based on SharePoint. Some of the Autonomy and Endeca installations fit this scenario nicely. A black eye for Microsoft and more grousing about the Fast solution with chipper Autonomy and Endeca professionals downplaying the obvious “save” their respective technologies made.

Bottom Line

Let’s step back. The more search options for SharePoint licensees, the better for the SharePoint customer. When Certified Gold Partners make more search system sales than Microsoft can make, the stage is set for another of those “Microsoft can’t get search right” waves that ripple the Internet every so often. When a prime account goes to another vendor, Microsoft finds itself torn between the revenue from its own software licensing efforts, the needs of the regional offices to sell consulting and fill training classes, and the internal analysis of what costs generate which revenues.

In short, there are currents, planar flows, rocks, and financial sea monsters at play. The surface may look like gentle waves breaking against a sandy beach. A misstep can cost you dearly.

Do you agree that Microsoft is creating powerful channel currents? Do you disagree with me, seeing nothing but good news in the Google scenario referenced? Maybe Microsoft has figured out search, and I don’t get it. Let me know.

In the meantime, check out X1, the latest in a long line of SharePoint search solutions. These solutions keep on coming so there must be a problem that needs to be solved. Don’t go swimming in dangerous waters alone.

Stephen Arnold, May 29, 2008


2 Responses to “X1 Technologies Dives into the SharePoint Search Channel”

  1. E Negler on May 30th, 2008 9:22 am

    One Microsoft habit that seems hard for it to break is to continually buy companies in the same solution realm and see if they fit. Reminds of a well to do baby boomer who gets a new car every year or so.

    Microsoft on the web advertising front started with a purchase of LinkExchange, a cooperative ad network in 1998. Add (ahem) to that Overture, FAST’s Admomentum, Motionbridge, aQuantive, Medstory, and you get the idea.

    Enterprise search is not easy and Microsoft has at least three offerings for Enterprise search: Free search, SharePoint turbo ninja search and if the customer is dazed, Microsoft’s new Fast Search and Transfer us your money.

    If the past is indicative of the future expect Microsoft to end up like IBM with at least five search engines as a search strategy. Come to think of it, that is typically what large corporations have, about five different search engines. Hmm….

  2. Stephen E. Arnold on May 31st, 2008 1:01 am

    Eric, thanks for your comment. I find the confusion factor in enterprise search at record levels. I don’t think the trend will wane any time soon. I am now collecting emails from frustrated search PR mavens who want to webinar me into docility. I just put up a post about a recent consulting firm study that awarded every vendor in its search derby a winner’s ribbon. Search is complicated, and there aren’t too many people willing to point that out.
    Stephen Arnold, May 31, 2008

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