Better late than never. While at the Cloud Connect conference at the end of April (2010), I "filmed" a demo of Caspio.com with the company's CEO Frank Zamani. After some delay, here's my writeup and the video (below). To me -- a former database guy (a lot of the software I developed over the years relied on dBase or Microsoft Access databases) -- the demo (video below) looked eerily familiar. It was almost as if I was looking at a cloud-based version of Microsoft Access. In my interview of him, Zamani even admitted "We made it look like Access."
Zamani doesn't pitch Caspio as the Microsoft Access of the cloud. He'd probably get sued for trademark misappropriation. But nothing prevents me from calling it that because that's exactly what it is. In fact, if Microsoft was smart, it would go out and acquire Caspio today so that it could check-off "Access" as one of the applications it will offer in the cloud (in addition to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). Or maybe Google should acquire the company first (just to keep Microsoft from one-upping Google in terms of the core office applications offered out of the cloud).
Says Zamani in the video, "Caspio is an online database platform for developers to build databases without programming. It's an easy way to build Web apps for any Web site, anywhere." And therein lies a big difference between what can be done with a shrink-wrapped locally installed piece of software like Microsoft Access and a cloud-based clone of the same: it can generate Web apps off those databases that look and feel very much like the desktop apps that the locally installed software used to generate.
One of the best features of Caspio is its "embed" feature which offers an embed code for a Caspio-based "datapage" much the same way that YouTube offers embed codes for its videos. Then, it's just a matter of placing that embed code in the HTML for a given page and Voila!; the database you just developed in Caspio is now available on the Web page.
This embedding capability is non-trivial when you think about the sort of code it often takes to pump the results of a database query onto a Web page. Zamani admits that as much as Caspio tried to make its cloud-based database idiot-proof, databases are still a challenge for most to fully grok. "You still need to be tech savvy" said Zamani in the interview. "We provide instructor led sessions on the Web."
In the demo, Zamani shows me how Caspio not only looks like Microsoft Access, it can import databases from Microsoft Access. The whole process is driven by what Zamani calls "Caspio Bridge Wizards." Once a database is imported or created, the next step is to launch a "Datapage Wizard" for creating Web forms, query forms, and reports (query results): basically, all the forms you need to complete an application. Like with Microsoft Access, you can skin the application with different styles and it appears (in the video) to offer localization to a bunch of different languages.
Caspio handles blobs at the field level (in other words, there's support for video, images, and other large binary objects) and supports SQL/API-based access to its databases (as you'd expect any database offering to do).
So why do your database in the cloud? For the same reasons you'd do anything else in the cloud. Let the cloud provider (Caspio in this case but there are other Access-like databases in the cloud) worry about the hardware and the scalability issues so you can stay focused on the value that your business gets out of a database. Not only that, no messy upgrades whenever your software provider decides to patch or upgrade your software. Like with other cloud-based services (eg: Salesforce.com, Google, etc.), getting the latest code is simply a matter of refreshing your browser.
Caspio has a personal "version" that's free but is limited to 2 data pages (essentially forms) and then starts at $40 per month for 10 datapages, 1 GB worth of data transfer and 1 GB of storage. There's a corporate version that goes for $350 per month (more datapages, capacity, and "logins") and several levels of subscription in-between. All levels of subscription allow an unlimited number of application users (people who would use the database as a part of a Web page or Web app via the aforementioned embedding feature). Depending on your level of database sophistication, Caspio may or may not be the solution for you. For example, you may find Amazon's SimpleDB to be more cost effective. Then again, it requires more in the way of database savviness and programming capability.
Caspio can be found on the Web at www.caspio.com. Here's the video demo:
David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below).