The Norwegian-based company, Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) has launched a new enterprisewide information access platform that it says will do for the enterprise what Google is doing for the Web. FAST ESP (Enterprise Search Platform) creates a single point of access for all information across an enterprise—in real time, regardless of data format, structure, or location. FAST says this gives organizations a 360-degree view of its information that provides perspective and enables better business decisions. FAST ESP isn't sold as a product but is the underlying technology for building applications and for the portfolio of five functional search solutions that FAST also introduced: FAST Data Search for Site Search, FAST Data Search for eCommerce, FAST Data Search for Intranets, FAST Data Search for Compliance, and Fast Data Search 360.
FAST ESP builds on FAST's earlier search solutions, but, according to John Rueter, vice president of global marketing, marks a real breakthrough and redefines the notion of enterprise search. "This is not just a repackaging or remarketing," he said. The new platform (known internally as FAST Data Search version 4.0) offers improved core search capabilities supplemented by best practice usage. The FAST ESP platform unites pieces of many technologies in an easily deployed, open architecture, and, as Rueter says, "is the thread that pulls it all together" for an enterprise.
FAST ESP now gives organizations access to both data and content (text), including relevant structured data stored in multiple databases, as well as the unstructured data of documents, e-mail, presentations, Web pages, and more. This, combined with increased scalability, on-the-fly analytics, increased flexibility and customization, enhanced security features, a revamped user interface, and many more improvements, should make FAST's users excited and other vendors take notice.
The platform can now handle between 20 and 50 million documents—up to 1 terabyte of information—per server, and process 100 to 500 queries per second. FAST ESP currently offers linguistic support for 77 languages (up from 52), 35 character encodings, and advanced support for 18 languages. Other enhancements include expanded support of business-controlled search results ("tunable" relevancy rules), dynamic drill down, entity extraction in the core product, and expanded reporting and monitoring capabilities.
"FAST ESP represents a paradigm shift; we are advancing our highly acclaimed enterprise search technology to the next level, putting greater distance between FAST and competing solutions, and providing a single platform solution that will transform the search market as it exists today," commented John M. Lervik, FAST's CEO.
Susan Feldman, IDC's research vice president for content technologies, calls ESP "a leap into the future." She commented: "IDC believes that this product ushers in a new generation of information access platforms that will provide a unified view of enterprise information. The platform is standards-based and highly scalable. FAST ESP also automates processes like taxonomy building that were previously labor-intensive, and it creates real-time access to both data and content. That's impressive."
Feldman also pointed out that FAST ESP treats its sources—both data and content—equally, applying the same tools to the information. She stated: "Suddenly, we can perform data mining on text when it contains numeric information, and text mining on database records when they contain text."
FAST ESP can integrate with enterprise applications, such as CRM (customer relationship management), data mining, and other business intelligence systems. Rueter calls it a "non-disruptive" technology—enterprises will not waste the investments in their existing applications. Pricing for FAST ESP starts at about $120,000 and varies depending on the functional search applications that are added.
FAST's customers include FirstGov.gov (GSA), LexisNexis, Reed Elsevier, IBM, Reuters, and many other global companies. In early 2003, FAST sold its Web search business and its AlltheWeb.com site to Overture (now owned by Yahoo!) in order to concentrate on enterprise search.
In an award-winning article in the January 2000 issue of Searcher, entitled "The Answer Machine," Feldman reviewed current search and retrieval technology and described her vision of the information system of the future (http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jan00/feldman.htm). Reviewing developments over the last four years while discussing the launch of the new FAST platform with me, she said: "FAST ESP is the first approximation of an ‘answer machine' that I have seen."