Azure Cognitive Search is a cloud-based search service provided by Microsoft within Azure cloud services. It includes AI capabilities as well as the Microsoft natural languages features that are in Bing and Office. With this search, you can apply search as a service to your web sites and applications. You can add features such as auto-complete, filtering, geospatial searching, and more. You can also work with key phrase extraction and OCR.
In order to use this service, you will need an Azure subscription. If you don’t already have a subscription, you can sign up for a free account that generally provides an initial usage credit for your first month. At the time this article was written, the initial credit was $200.
It should be noted up front that this is an Azure cloud service that you can try for free but has a cost if you plan to continue to use it. This cost is going to be based on storage, query units, indices, and documents. A benefit, however, of using a cloud search service is that not only do you get all of the prebuilt functionality, but you can scale your usage up or down as needed so that you are only paying for what you need. As mentioned, you can get started by trying it for free.
Creating a Cognitive Search Service
Creating an Azure Cognitive Service in Azure can be done in just a few steps. To build our search service, start by going to the Azure Portal at portal.azure.com. On the home page, you will be shown several options. Look for the "Create a resource" option and select it.
Click the Create button to start the process of creating your search service. This will present you with a new dialog to enter information on your subscription and the service you are creating:
You will be presented with the list of options for creating a new resource. If you don't see Azure Cognitive Search in the lists Marketplace list, then use the search box to find it. You can simply enter "Azure Cognitive Search" into the search box and press enter to find it. This will display a page similar to the following:
You will need to fill out the information in this dialog. As you can see in my image, I'm using a free trial subscription while creating this article. You can use any subscription you might have. The resource group is used to hold the resources for the solution we are creating, in this case a search service. Either select an existing one or click the "Create new" link and provide the name of a new resource group.
You need to also fill out the details for the specific search service being created. Provide a unique name to be used with the URL. This should follow standard naming conventions and be between 2 and 60 characters. As a note, the URL name will need to be all lowercase letters. The Location should be the data center that is nearest to you.
The pricing tier should default to Standard. You can change this to one of the others depending on the level of searching you believe you'll need to do. You can click on the Change Pricing Tier link to get more information on how the tiers differ.
With the information entered, click the Review + create button. This will start the process of validating the new search service. If all goes well, you should get a Validation Successful message. You can then click the Create button to actually complete the creation and deployment of your service. Once the deployment is completed, you'll have a message on your portal:
You've now successfully created and deployed an Azure Cognitive Search Service! Navigate to your home page, then select Resource Groups. From your Resource Groups, you can select the new service you just created. This should present you with service's overview page similar to the following:
This screen gives you the ability to review your usage and much more. At this point you have created a service and have it up and running. With a service set up, you'll need to load data in the form of JSON documents into an index to use the search service. That, however, is the topic of the next article.