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Microsoft Offers Cloud-Based Public Data Hosting With Azure

The Open Government Data Initiative aims to help government agencies host public data on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud computing platform.

As the American public and the Obama administration push the government to post more public data online, federal agencies are struggling with how to do so, and how to make that data available in a form that's usable to the public and to third-party developers who want to use the data for their own Web applications and services.

Microsoft sees an opening and has introduced what it's calling the Open Government Data Initiative, a program to help government agencies host their data on Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Azure cloud computing platform and make it available to developers via a programmatic API.

Microsoft is releasing a free, open source software development kit that gives agencies, or third parties with access to that data, the tools they need to host their data in Azure and provide programmatic interfaces to the data via REST. By default, OGDI churns out data in the Atom format, which can be consumed in any number of ways, including but not limited to .Net, Ruby, PHP, and Python. OGDI can also handle geospatial data.

The company is also asking government agencies that don't want to deal with the SDK to send their data sets to Microsoft -- whether by e-mail, FTP, or any other method -- and Microsoft will then host them directly.

A number of demonstration data sets are up on a reference beta site for OGDI, including a number of data sets on Washington, D.C. (like building permit and crime locations) and per diem spending rates for the General Services Administration. If the data has associated location data, Microsoft's beta site also shows how the government data can be mapped onto a Live Map.

"I think the trend we are seeing is that government agencies, especially with nonsensitive data, ... don't have the computing capacity or power to host it internally nor the funding means to support it," said Susie Adams, CTO of Microsoft's federal civilian agency business, in an interview. OGDI, she implied, would offer a cheaper place to store that data and a less development-intensive way to give developers and the public access to that data.

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