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What is Federated Search and Why Is It So Important for Your Business?


At its core, federated search is a technique commonly used for searching multiple collections of text at the same time — thus making it easier for employees within a business to find the data that they need to better do their jobs.

To get an idea of how this all works, imagine that you have information stored on several different repositories. This can include things like network shares, hard disk drives and even cloud-based storage systems. Rather than searching for a particular document in each of these locations one-by-one, federated search allows you to go through all of them at once — thus increasing the speed at which you’re able to retrieve important information and improving your ability to actually act on the insight contained within it. 

What is Federated Search? An Overview

But even going beyond the fact that federated search makes it easy to find what you’re looking for, it brings with it a number of other important benefits, too. By its nature federated search is customizable in scope, allowing you to rely on a system that is uniquely situated to service the needs of a particular user, of a specific community or of an entire business.

As stated, federated search is a very convenient way to browse information contained in a variety of different sources, all at the exact same time. With federated search you can instantly see results from not only network drives and similar sources like those outlined above, but also data stored on your business’ Intranet, data contained in many different repositories like personal cloud-based storage drives, and even websites.

Regardless of what you’re searching for or where it is stored, you can see everything you need by way of a single, consistent, and centralized interface.

In a larger sense, another one of the major benefits of federated search comes by way of the increased security that you can enjoy. Federated search allows you to query secure sources because in addition to the terms that you’re actually searching for, it can also send along user credentials at the same time. This lets people see results that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to if they were just performing a simple web search.

You’re already seeing colleges and other educational institutions make excellent use of this, for example, as they can provide students fast access to everything from academic journals to research papers. The students themselves don’t have to log in individually each time because they get everything they need in a single system.

If someone using a federated search tool doesn’t have access to a specific source, results from that source will not appear. This means that if two users are using the same federated search interface, but only one has access to a particular resource, only that person will see results from that repository as things naturally vary depending on their level of access.

Another major benefit of federated search is that it dramatically expands the flexibility of how you’re searching for information. Now, you have the ability to weigh sources depending on how relevant they may be, or how visible you want them to be in searches moving forward. This lets you prioritize searchable information in a way that makes the most sense for your organization, finally allowing your employees to work “smarter, not harder.”

But for most businesses, one of the long-term benefits of federated search is that it dramatically expands the reach of the searches that you’re able to perform. It allows you to extract value from the parts of the Internet that are usually ignored by search engines, otherwise known as the deep web.

The deep web is made up mostly of content that standard web crawlers (like the kind employed by Google to generate search engine results pages) either cannot find, or don’t consider it worth the time to explore. This content can include but is certainly not limited to information like:

  • Pages that cannot be obtained because they’re running on a slow web server.
  • Sites that immediately request that a user log in before it will display any information at all.
  • Specific portions of websites that are prohibited for whatever reason, like a robot exclusion protocol.
  • Dynamic content that is updated far too frequently.
  • Documents that are not actually linked to from anywhere else on the web.

But these documents are still valuable — and federated search makes it possible to find them in an easy and effective way. In the end, it’s a technique that allows you to find what you need, when you need it, all so that you can further your business objectives — which is why it absolutely has a place at the heart of your organization.

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