Microsoft offers £620m for search firm FAST

Microsoft offers £620m for search firm FAST

Key acquisition would give Microsoft high-end search tech

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Microsoft has offered to buy enterprise search software company Fast Search And Transfer for 6.6bn Norwegian kroner (£620m).

The acquisition will bring Microsoft powerful high end search technologies to complement its enterprise infrastructure offering, the company said.

Microsoft's recent efforts in enterprise search have been aimed at the other end of the market. In November, it introduced two new low end enterprise search products, Search Server 2008 and Search Server Express 2008, both based on its SharePoint Server 2007 business productivity platform. It is pitching Search Server 2008 as a cheap entry into enterprise search, while the Express version is free for single installations.

By integrating Fast Search's products with SharePoint, and drawing on its worldwide network of partners, Microsoft hopes to bring Fast Search's products to a wider audience.

It is also counting on Fast Search's Norwegian research team to bolster research efforts in Europe. Microsoft has laboratories in Cambridge and Copenhagen.

The directors at Oslo-based Fast Search have recommended that shareholders accept the offer, which represents a premium of 42% over Fast Search's share price at close of business on Friday. The companies expect the deal to close in the second quarter, subject to customary closing conditions, including the approval of the holders of at least 90% of Fast Search's shares.

Fast Search's rivals in the market for specialised enterprise search tools include Google, with its Search Appliance, French search company Exalead, and Autonomy, which recently acquired Meridio and Zantaz.

Mike Davis, senior analyst at Ovum, said Microsoft was making a clever move and putting itself into the top league of enterprise search providers. “It is certain to make other large vendors look at the acquisition of high-end solution providers rather than develop their own [enterprise search software].”

But he added that Microsoft was not buying the largest player. “Of course, the big prize will be Autonomy, which is still endeavouring to demonstrate the strength of its independence.”

The buyer was also taking on a company with financial worries, he warned. “FAST has had some well recorded financial and accounting difficulties, and only a large company such as Microsoft could afford to take on an organisation which may still have some undiscovered liabilities.”

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