We have used sphinx in a couple of projects and its pretty solid. You can also check apache solr ( http://lucene.apache.org/solr/ )
and the acts_as_solr_reloaded ( http://github.com/dcrec1/acts_as_solr_reloaded ).
Thinking sphinx is the de facto standard if you use sphinx.
Hava a look at thinking sphinx manual for Q2 and Q3.
I don’t think that you will have any problems by having different development and deployment systems.
As for not using apache, I don’t think that has anything to do with the search functionality of your app.