The Azure team has been steadily adding features to their Pay-as-you-Go Search Service. At the time of writing it was still in preview mode, but the feature set is now starting to represent a respectable cloud Search Service.
The Azure Search Service is purely a back end solution that developers can use to add search capability to their applications. Its functionality is limited to the index and services surrounding that, i.e. populating indexes and querying indexes. The User Experience layer and any crawling required is entirely in the hands of the developer. It will not provide a quick fix search for websites like Bing or Google Search would, but will allow for full control over the results returned and thus a rich search experience for the user. The Search Service communication layer implements a RESTful interface making it simple to develop against.
Azure search offers all the features you would expect from an enterprise grade search service including:
When setting up an index the developer can specify whether or not a field is facetable, this then allows the developer to display facets on the UI to assist search. An example of this is when searching for a laptop on an e-commerce site, you can search for a manufacturer and then using relevant terms additionally refine your search, for example by Memory or Processor. Only terms that are applicable to the subset of products returned in the original search would be available to refine by.
At the time of writing it supports 27 languages, including where relevant word stemming for example "stemming", "stemmer" can be reduced to "stem". Stop words, e.g. "I", "to" or "the" can be removed from analyzed text.
Both prefix and infix search suggestions are offered. Developers can request search suggestions as the user types and matches for both words, e.g. "worlds lightest laptop" could be returned as a suggestion when typing "world" or "lightest".
You can alter the order that search results are returned based on numerical fields, for example you might want to return items first with a higher star rating. Tag Boosting, a new experimental feature that allows results to be altered based on the users profile is currently being previewed. This allows you to change the sort order based on data associated with that user. For example you might want to return brands that the user normally purchases first.
Azure Search is offered on a shared service, which is free and for development purposes, and on a standard service, which is paid for and supports dedicated resources. The standard service is fully scalable and is priced based roughly on index and number of queries.
With the Fast team fully embedded in Microsoft they now have a good story around search, and with the recent innovations including Office Graph I see no reason why they can't offer a market leading search product going forward.
If you are interested in learning more about how BrightStarr can help you with cutting edge search solutions, then why not get in touch today. We love talking technology!