Enterprise search has a very unusual requirement for high performance computing power at the time of indexing, especially when an organisation wishes to move (say) 500 million files to a more powerful search application. Query matching and result display are somewhat less computationally greedy. The scale of this indexing process also inhibits search vendors from introducing upgrades which involve even a partial re-index, especially in an on-prem install. So despite concerns about privacy cloud solutions are the way forward for organisations of any size
Over the last few months, the attention of the cloud search community has been on trying to unravel the direction of travel of AWS OpenSearch and what form of co-existence there will be between AWS and Elastic. Meanwhile there is basically a highly competitive three way battle between Azure, AWS and Google, so any competitive advantage can have a significant upside. AWS launched Kendra in December 2019 and has certainly been grabbing the search headlines with upgrades and of course the OpenSearch initiative. Although Azure does have a search offering it is hardly attention grabbing. The announcement yesterday between Sinequa and Microsoft seems to be a win-win for both partners.
The French Connection
What is now on offer from Sinequa, via Azure, is a rapid installation of Sinequa’s technical capabilities through pre-configured links into the Azure cloud. This will reduce the time to index from weeks to days, or even hours. It makes the business case for the migration far less expensive from a computer resources perspective. It potentially delivers a production environment in weeks rather than months just so long as you have already invested in a good search team! Don’t start until you have both the team and really solid understanding of how this level of search power is going to have the business impact you hope it will.
The technical cooperation between Microsoft and Sinequa also brings with it fully-optimised connectors for other Microsoft products. Connectors can so often be a substantial implementation challenge and maintaining connections as one or both of the applications is upgraded is never easy. This should not be a problem with what I would hope would be a high level of communication between Microsoft and Sinequa developers. Also announced is an application-specific app for Teams.
To get back to the win-wins. Sinequa gains visibility and access to Microsoft customers who need not just better search across the Microsoft stack but also to be able to integrate and federate applications from other vendors. There are no signs that Sinequa offering is “Sinequa-light” – Azure customers will have access to the full feature set including its configurable UI and Vanilla SBA on GitHub.
A potential benefit of this close linkage is that PoCs will be easier to set up and run, though I suspect the partners will be working very hard to avoid potential customers needing anything more than a connectivity PoC. The down-side is that the Sinequa pre-sales team may not have time for a holiday this year!
From the Microsoft perspective it now has an integrated search solution to challenge AWS and Google Cloud Search without having to make any significant investment. In the same way as in 2008 when it capitalized on the reputation of FAST Search it can now do so with Sinequa, who in the end will own the customer. However, I am sure that Microsoft will learn much of value about the requirements for high-end search. It is also of note that this agreement comes just after the Microsoft acquisition of Nuance and its focus on AI in health care, a sector in which Sinequa is supporting search in a number of major pharmaceutical clients.
The venture will probably cause some concern among vendors who offer add-ons to Microsoft products; I’m sure BAInsight and Coveo amongst many others will be tracking the outcomes of this agreement. It will certainly create a demand for experienced search team members, especially with line-of-business experience. In the short term, finding and/or training a search team might be the biggest barrier to growth though Sinequa does have a well-developed ‘University’.
The wider picture
This has ended up as quite a long post, but I think back to 2008 and the promise of not just FAST in SharePoint but also the FAST Search ESP enterprise search application. Those were the days! I was recently very critical of the Microsoft 365 search effort and the Sinequa-Microsoft agreement is not going to address these concerns. But if you are a global organisation with cross-language and cross-application search requirements and making extensive use of most, if not all, of the Microsoft technical stack then this Microsoft/Sinequa agreement is the most encouraging news I have been able to report in enterprise search since early 2008!
It demonstrates that Microsoft regards search is a core business service to the extent that it is content to allow Sinequa a sizeable income from the agreement. After all, it could just have stayed with the current Elasticsearch option. Microsoft is playing the longer game of attaining cloud supremacy and good search is an essential component when it is up against AWS and Google.