See the first part of this series here: Is SharePoint Search Dead?

Despite all these signals, there has continued to be a quite healthy investment from Microsoft in search, and SharePoint search is a remarkably capable and very affordable product.    The search market was commoditized for quite some time, due largely to Microsoft and Google.

The market is changing, though.    And there are a lot of positive signs for Microsoft in Enterprise Search.

  • Cloud-based search is becoming mainstream, and Hybrid is being used heavily either as an on-ramp to the cloud or as a permanent strategy. Microsoft’s Cloud Hybrid Search, introduced in May 2016, has proven out as a solid and pragmatic solution.   It’s not perfect but is certainly effective for those already using Office 365.
  • Google exited the market by sunsetting the GSA.  Their Google Cloud Search (formerly referred to as “Springboard”) shows no signs of aiming to be a replacement.
  • A new wave of innovation is happening in the search market, with more intelligent systems and the application of machine learning to personalize and improve search and discovery. Although this is overhyped, it has real value.  Microsoft has been working in this direction for several years and it appears the market is now validating their investment.
  • Microsoft is back in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, which is now renamed to be the “Insight Engines” Magic Quadrant and no longer has the standalone criteria that excluded Microsoft and other platform vendors. They are in the leaders quadrant, and are the only “superpower” vendor in this quadrant.
  • The new “modern search” in Office 365 has been well received. This doesn’t replace the classic search center, but provides a level of built-in personalization beyond anything else on the market.
  • Development focus and responsiveness has clearly improved. For example, updates to the cloud hybrid search facility have happened with nearly every monthly CU.  Personally, my experience is that Microsoft’s responsiveness on search issues is dramatically better than it was 2 years ago; I can often get fixes through within a couple of months and it’s clear that there are sharp people minding the store.

Microsoft continues to invest heavily in search technology.  The Norway development center responsible for this has grown in headcount and continues to innovate, with focus on providing intelligence for the Microsoft Graph.    They are leading in the new wave of intelligent search and discovery technology, and the market seems to be moving in this direction.

It seems that 2015 was the low point in terms of the perception of Microsoft position in the search market.  Subsequently there have been a lot of positive signs for Microsoft in Enterprise Search.    So why did I get a rash of questions in April and May?   It turns out this was the result of the Gartner Magic Quadrant changing names, and a wave of Google Search Appliance owners looking to understand their options for replacements.  (I certainly recommend Agnes Molnar’s book about GSA Retirement for the latter folks).

Trajectory for the Future

The same factors I listed above continue to play a part going forward:

  • Terminology will continue to morph and bewilder. Whether “Insight Engines” sticks or not, you can be sure that there will be new terms for old features, rebranding, and marketing initiatives designed to confuse the innocent.  I predict we will still be talking about “search” for another decade, alongside the new terms, even as search itself becomes a ubiquitous and taken-for-granted layer behind all our applications.
  • Microsoft’s product evolution and release cadence is only speeding up, and will also continue to confuse. Last week, for example, there was a rash of blog postings and tweets claiming the “Sharepoint search API will be discontinued on August 31, 2017”. In fact, that is not happening, though an API called the Graph Query Language which extended the search API was discontinued and replaced by a new endpoint in the Microsoft Graph.
  • Bundling will continue and it is unlikely that Microsoft’s enterprise search will ever return to being a standalone offering.
  • Microsoft’s partner strategy has been pretty consistent and seems very likely to continue, meaning that you will need help and/or add-ons from partners to truly have a complete search solution using the Microsoft stack.
  • Microsoft’s development focus will likely stay with the Microsoft Graph until that seems to be a battle they have won, at which point it will shift to the next battle. But the investment in this technology area seems likely to continue unabated.

Blog in-the-text banner Search Explained (1)

A new factor in this picture is the dramatic rise of open source in the search market.   Elasticsearch has now passed 100 million downloads.    Open Source is also being used by nearly every vendor (including Microsoft) under the hood.    Whether Open Source search has a lower cost of ownership or not (which depends on the situation), it does change the equation in two areas:

  • Protection from acquisitions and change of direction: many organizations have had to deal with replacing their search platform because the acquisition of their vendor (such as FAST, Endeca, Autonomy, Vivissimo, Recommind, etc) took the technology in a different direction than they wanted.   Open Source doesn’t eliminate this risk, but there is at least always an ability to find community support.
  • Control and tuning there has always been a tradeoff between power, control, and ease of administration in this kind of technology. Microsoft usually strives to keep as much of the high-powered technology as they can while simplifying administration, resulting in a lack of control over the various knobs and settings of the technology.  Open Source is the ultimate in control, which may have an counterbalancing effect to Microsoft and other vendors becoming more and more “black box”.

So, SharePoint Search is not dead, and Microsoft has not left the search market.  There were in fact plenty of signs that it was dropping its focus on the search market over the past 5 years.  But after a low point around 2015, there is some significant evidence that Microsoft is solidly focused on this area, albeit from a different angle and perhaps under a different name.

Is perception reality? I’ll leave that for a philosophy class (or another blog posting).  But in this area at least, the perception is improving.   The next time someone asks me about Microsoft in the search market, I can point to a Gartner report and other such evidence.    Then, with that settled, we can get into making search shine in their environment.