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3/5/2008
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Microsoft Extends SQL Server To The Web With Data Services

SQL Server Data Services aims to help businesses avoid much of the costs and complexity of developing and provisioning data-heavy apps and mashups.

Whereas Amazon S3 has attracted mostly startup companies, Microsoft is already actively seeking and gaining the interest of a few companies with lots of data, like newsreader maker NewsGator, which already stores "many terabytes" of data in SQL Server, including 7 million new articles every day. An internal user at Microsoft Research has already taken advantage of SQL Server Data Services to try to understand the differences and similarities in how social networking sites create their social graphs, and has stored more than 10 million pieces of social graph data on the service.

Still, Microsoft may face a challenge in getting businesses to sign on to its vision. Businesses won't put business critical data on the Web without some convincing. Latency may make for unacceptable wait times for high-performance apps, the potential of uncontrollable downtime represents a big risk, and customers will want to know that their data is secure.

Microsoft says the on-demand service will include business-class service-level agreements with SQL Server Data Services, and that companies and developers will be able to store "virtually any amount of data in the cloud." Companies also will be able to use Microsoft's Sync Framework to enable a form of offline access to SQL Server Data Services in an ability to sync offline data up with the cloud. For example, a developer might want to create a grocery-list manager that has online, offline, and mobile functionality for different uses at home and in the grocery store.

Though Microsoft has often been criticized for making its products work only with other Microsoft products, SQL Server Data Services doesn't require SQL Server or .Net applications. "I can walk up to it with standard types of tools," Campbell said. The service supports Rest and SOAP interfaces and will support the AtomPub protocol.

NewsGator CTO Greg Reinacker said in an interview that SQL Server Data Services could provide good archival storage for older data, though he might use it for more if it's successful as a data archival system. "It's expensive for us to maintain a lot of storage and a lot of CPU around our storage, and the more of that we can outsource is great for us," he said. "We have billions of articles we'd love to have indexed by anybody but me."

Reinacker said that one place where Microsoft might beat Amazon is in service-level agreements. Amazon's SLAs, he said, don't have enough teeth to provide Amazon with a significant revenue-based incentive to keep the service up and running, whereas he's convinced through some early discussions that Microsoft will do so.

Microsoft's wrapping the "entity data model" into SQL Server Data Services, meaning that developers will be able to easily create containers for a set of data and define data entities like "Customer" or "Order" that contain all the data types relevant to a customer or an order and can be altered at will, using technology Microsoft developed in a project code-named Astoria.

The entity data model should help developers create more flexible data sets and potentially more easily integrate disparate data. "The advantage of this is that developers can create logical data entities that don't already even exist or tie them together from different sources," Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna said in an interview. "Today, if you want to integrate five different data sources, you need to know exactly all the details for the five different data sets. Instead of going through tedious ways of integrating, you can really tie into the data in real time."

That said, Microsoft says SQL Server Data Services isn't intended to replace traditional enterprise data integration products, but rather to complement or build on what they can do on the Web. "This enables the creation of data mashups on the Web and also offers the potential for traditional enterprise data integration technologies to map, integrate, and mashup on-premises data with data on the Web," Campbell said.

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