In a world awash with data, even user-experience conferences like Microsoft's Mix conference this week must cover database technologies. So while much of the press attention here has focused on Silverlight, the company's glitzy new plug-in, the world of data has quietly played a strong supporting role in several little-noticed announcements, including an early test release of a set of data services.
Data even plays a role in Silverlight because of Silverlight's support for Language Integrated Query, or LINQ, which was announced Monday. According to .Net general manager Scott Guthrie, LINQ simplifies the process to query databases. This makes sense since, in order to surface data in interesting ways, the user interface technology first needs to be able to easily access that data.
Monday, in a session called "Accessing Data Services in the Cloud," Microsoft announced a programming model and related hosted service referred to as Project Astoria. Astoria is a set of downloadable bits built on top of a part of a Microsoft data access technology called ADO.NET that allows people to model data. It includes both a way of programming against an Internet-based relational database via APIs and, potentially more interesting, the capability to create relational databases that are hosted by Microsoft.
In announcing the project, Pablo Castro, Microsoft's ADO.NET technical lead, called Astoria "a set of experimental technologies." The plans -- and even Astoria's definition -- appear up in the air.
The aim of the first part of Astoria is to define an easy way of referring to databases in Web parlance, regardless of the type of data. Today, in order for Web services to access databases, they need to use programming models other than HTML, like ColdFusion, to get at the data. Castro showed how a standard way to refer to databases in HTML might, for example, make it easier for a company to drill into a Web-hosted database to figure out which of its orders are coming from London and represent it in a common format like XML.
Right now, Astoria's hosted service element only allows people to interact with sample data already in Microsoft's stores, though the intention is to soon allow people to upload their own data. "You may say hey, just put this database box in an Internet connection. It doesn't work that way," Castro said. There's obviously a long path toward some sort of SQL Server Live, but it appears it's a path that's beginning to be blazed, even if Microsoft doesn't explicitly say so.