Run FAST to Open-Source Search
February 13, 2010 6 Comments
Ever since Microsoft announced they are halting all development of FAST for Linux starting now, every single organization involved in search had something to say on this topic. Here are our thoughts on that.
Apparently 80% of FAST users are Linux users. We won’t speculate what is really behind this seemingly crazy decision to turn off the FAST@Linux dollar faucet. Over at Kellblog, the Mark Logic CEO already itemized whose door the current FAST@Linux customers might want to knock on next depending on what they are using FAST for. Unfortunately, he forgot one important angle there, one key option for FAST@Linux users that in today’s day and age should absolutely not be ignored. After every storm comes sunshine. The same is happening here. While being forced to start thinking about changing one’s search solution probably isn’t pleasant, it does open another important door, a big opportunity, one should not ignore. The question we would pose FAST customers is the following: Is there something you’ve always wanted to do with FAST, but never could? Here is your chance to change that! That door that just opened… walk through it, take look around, you just may like it. Read on.
While FAST@Linux users may be experiencing mental turbulence now, they know there are open-source tools and solutions out there that are more scalable and faster than FAST and don’t involve any crazy per-document, per-query, per-xyz licensing fees. (The part about superior performance is referring to Lucene and solutions built on top of it, like Solr. Several years ago the former C*O of FAST called me up with a search business proposal. One of the bits he mentioned is that his/FAST engineers were testing Lucene and found it faster than their own search components.) More importantly, these tools are completely open and give FAST@Linux customers the opportunity to finally get whatever they could never get from FAST. Sure, there will be some trade-offs (e.g. some of these tools may not have some of the nice GUI pieces FAST has, but that is changing…eh, fast). But the key bit is that these tools are not only free to get and use, they are nearly infinitely flexible. They have their source opened to all the eyeballs of the world. They have open-minded communities (or at least the ones we are involved in at Apache Lucene, Solr, Nutch, etc. are). Development plans are all an open book. Any organization’s engineers are welcome to jump in and either contribute (nearly finished) new components, or collaborate to develop new functionality, or simply explain user-cases and request functionality to support them, or even fork the whole project. One would be crazy to choose the last option, of course – it would be sub-optimal use of the benefits of choosing an open-source solution. Flexibility is one of the key benefits of using open-source. You don’t like relevance is computed? Plug your own secret sauce! You don’t like how data is stored on disk? Change it to your liking!
If you have to get off FAST@Linux in the coming years, think very, very, VERY hard before you go to another closed enterprise search vendor. By going to another closed enterprise search vendor, what have you achieved? You may be able to do what you never could do with FAST before, but there might be some other functionality you’ll have to give up because the new vendor does not have it, does not plan on having, and that you cannot add yourself because most of the solution is a black box with tiny holes poked on some of its sides, so you can kind of take a pretend peek inside. This would not be an improvement. This would be a missed opportunity!
Here are some of the key benefits of going with open-source search tools and solutions:
- No up-front fees
- No increasing fees due to growth
- Flexibility to change anything and everything
- A large and growing user and development communities
- Security of commercial-grade support
Microsoft’s decision to drop FAST development for Linux is a blessing in disguise. It may not be pleasant right now, but it is actually a good opportunity for FAST customers. Choose wisely now and in the coming years, and avoid being put on the spot again.
Update: after posting this we came across a blog post that refers to a search service switching from FAST to Solr and cutting costs 400%. That is, the cost of their new Solr-powered search is 25% of the cost of their old FAST-powered search.