When IT departments roll out SharePoint, search is usually the last thing on their minds. This is really a shame, because powerful enterprise search is one of the most underutilized features that comes out of the box with MOSS Standard or Enterprise. You get search with WSS too, but you can only search a given site collection.
MOSS allows you to search across a whole enterprise unifying rogue document shares, reclusive business data, and your actual SharePoint content. People can also search for People and find internal resources that possess a particular skill set, or report to a given manager.
Business units naturally tend to carve out their own space for storing tribal knowledge. This is usually irritating to system administrators and confusing to new hires (never mind existing employees). One of the easiest corrective actions is to tell SharePoint to go index all these pieces of hidden content and yield them when the appropriate search string is entered.
Creating a search portal is one of the most obvious value adds that you can quickly provide your users. I can't think of any organization I've ever worked with that didn't have documents scattered across the enterprise. In a day and age when IT is constantly trying to justify it's ROI, turning the key on enterprise search is an easy home run.
What's even better is that SharePoint Search will automatically security trim based on ACL (Access Control List) entries that are found on the content. This means that if you're indexing an NTFS share that only the DOMAIN\HR users can access, you don't have to worry about the search engine yielding those documents as search results when searches are done by the DOMAIN\Marketing folks. This holds true for SharePoint content which also exposes ACLs to the SharePoint indexer.
If you're completely new to search, consider reading the search chapters in Bill English's Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Administrator's Companion. While it's not specifically geared to search, it'll speak to search in general and all the topics directly related to search. It's probably the most complete SharePoint reference out there. I like to think of it as the MOSS Bible for all things general and out of the box. If you're looking for a more in depth title more specifically targeted to search, consider Inside the Index and Search Engines: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (PRO-Developer).
Fire It Up
If you haven't done so already, consider creating a portal site for your enterprise. After that, create a Search Center somewhere off that root site.
All that's left to do is open up the Shared Service Provider for your farm and start adding content sources. After you perform a full crawl, a myriad of documents that used to be extremely hard to find (or at least required Sherpa like navigation knowledge) will start to show up as search results for anyone who had access in the first place. Start small if you have a tonne of content to index and aren't currently in a large farm set up, but have a little faith in the product too. Even a stand alone installation can easily maintain an index for thousands of documents, and when you need to scale your farm out, rest assured that it's very possible.
If you're part of a huge organization then search becomes a more interesting topic in the sense that indexing millions of documents and setting up the security around all this content is a big job. But the point of this post is to make you more aware of SharePoint search and took at it as a relatively easy value add. Take comfort in the fact that this out of the box search feature (MOSS Standard/Enterprise) will do things that even $10,000 Google Mini's won't. You owe it to yourself to at least start playing with it.
In future posts we'll get into Managed and Crawled Properties, search Scopes, Content Sources etc..., the purpose of this is simply to get you enthused about search. There's no replacement for good planning and a solid information taxonomy, but when information is already scattered to the winds nothing helps round up lost documents like a good search engine.