7 2000 – 2009 The start of industry consolidation

The decade from 2000-2009 was marked by the high visibility of Verity, Autonomy and FAST Search and Transfer and the beginning of consolidation in the search business. Verity grew rapidly over the period from 2000-2005 and started to achieve a respectable level of profitability. Revenues in 2003 were just over $100 million. These increased to $150 million by 2005 with the company sitting on around $250m in cash and investments. Autonomy acquired Inktomi (or rather the Ultraseek product) in 2003 and Cardiff Software in 2005. By late 2005 there were 160 employees and the company claimed that 15,000 companies and other organisations had licensed its software.

A potential game-changer emerged in 2002. This was the Google Appliance, which was a substantial amount of Google technology delivered on a Dell server in a yellow casing designed to be inserted into a standard server rack. The pricing model was document based, but this came with some hidden implications, notably calculating the cost of Excel files based on the number of worksheets. For CIOs that had long argued for an enterprise search that worked like Google it was an answer to their dreams. Google increased the size of the server configuration and released a number of software upgrades. At first the reaction was very positive but it was not easy to optimise the search results and the level of support from Google was very limited.

Over the same period of 2003-2005 FAST Search and Transfer revenues increased from $42 million to over $100 million, but the company had over 450 employees and the 2005 Annual Report is a tale of woe about a whole range of investments and other transactions. The FAST IPO had taken place in 2001. The company then sold off its web search interests in 2003, including AllTheWeb which has now reappeared as a component of Vespa. The acquisition of RetrievalWare followed in 2007 but there were already concerns about the way in which the company was presenting its accounts.

In 2000 Autonomy raised $124 million of investment funds when it floated on NASDAQ and then in 2003 started the process of acquiring a substantial stable of companies, starting with the video software company Virage in 2003. Then in 2005 it acquired Verity for $500 million, a significant multiplier on $7 million net income. By 2006 Autonomy was reporting revenues of $250 million but probably half of this amount was generated by Verity. Over the next three years Autonomy also acquired Blinx, Zantaz, Merido and probably most remarkably Interwoven, a WCMS vendor. In 2008 Autonomy became a member of the FTSE100, and by 2009 the company had revenues of £740 million and over 1600 employees.

The acquisition of FAST Search and Transfer by Microsoft in 2008 came as a surprise, as did the purchase price of $1.2 billion. It seemed to suggest that Microsoft was going to be an enterprise search provider, based around the very powerful FAST ESP search platform. However within months of the acquisition concerns were being raised about the extent to which the booked revenues of FAST Search and Transfer were being recognised, a situation that also arose in 2011 with the HP acquisition of Autonomy. One day the full story of both acquisitions may emerge. In the event Microsoft stripped out elements of FAST ESP and incorporated them into the FAST Search Server for SharePoint 2010. Such was the reputation of FAST that many organisations were under the impression that they had actually acquired the ESP product bundled into SharePoint.

Although Verity, FAST and Autonomy were the most visible enterprise search applications others were also being developed quite successfully, including Endeca, Exalead, Vivisimo, ISYS Search and a number of others, but their independent existence continued for a few more years. Of particular note was P@noptic which developed from a research project dating back to 1991 at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the national research organisation in Australia. When Google arrived on the search scene CSIRO saw an opportunity to address the problems of enterprise search by commercialising this ongoing research into text retrieval and from it created P@noptic. This very capable search application had a number of very neat technical elements and quite quickly gained a collection of highly satisfied users from operations in Australia, the USA, the UK and Poland. The company was spun off in 2005 as Funnelback Pty Ltd and was sold to Squiz in 2009.  A history of the project has been published as an autobiography by David Hawking, the leader of the CSIRO project team and who was then actively involved in the commercialisation of the technology in Funnelback.


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