Adding Google to SharePoint

One of the questions I hear time and again is: "We're running SharePoint. Should we get a Google Appliance for search?" This was the case with SharePoint 2007, and it hasn't changed with 2010. The only thing that's different is the answer I commonly hear: nowadays, many would advise to get Microsoft's FAST as an "add-on," instead of going with Google's search boxes.

The thing is, adding Google to SharePoint usually doesn't make a lot of sense. SharePoint's native search capabilities compare pretty well to what Google can do. I've only seen a couple of actual bake-offs between the two, but users don't tend to discover big differences in the quality of the results.

The only thing they do notice: the Google logo instills a little more faith in the results of a search. If Google can't find it, it must be the searcher's fault, the assumption goes. With Microsoft, it might just be SharePoint's fault.

So if you're having issues with the search in SharePoint, Google is unlikely to fix them. A cynic would say that Google's logo would at least let the users blame themselves, instead of the IT department. But simply deferring the blame will come with a hefty price tag. Do the math carefully and you'll find you'll easily spend tens, and quite probably hundreds of thousands on Google Appliances. These aren't cheap machines, if only because they have limits on how many records you can index.

Microsoft's FAST, on the other hand, may look like the logical alternative. However, FAST, even in Microsoft's much-reduced licensing, isn't cheap, either. But more importantly, it'll add a lot of complexity you may not be prepared to deal with -- and may not need. Using FAST for scenarios where Google would be viable is overkill.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of alternatives for specific scenarios if you want to improve on search within, and especially outside of, SharePoint. So if you're currently thinking about only two options -- either bolting on Google Appliances, or adding FAST -- alarm bells should go off. Not because either is a bad solution -- but because it suggests your requirements have likely not been adequately thought through. Since you'll spend a lot more money than you think, this not something to decide off-the-cuff.

Got SharePoint search issues? Take a long look at current environment and how to fix it within SharePoint itself. By the time you fully understand the issues, you might come up with better alternatives, too.

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