FAQ: Microsoft's SQL Server Data Services

How Redmond's SSDS offering could change Web development

Mostly lost among the flock of announcements at Microsoft's Mix08 Web developer conference last week was the news that Redmond is starting to test a Web database service based on its popular SQL Server database management software.

For data junkies, however, SQL Server Data Services (SSDS) is a big deal, one that legitimizes -- and may transform -- the nascent market for cloud-based databases while serving as a linchpin of Microsoft's utility computing strategy.

Microsoft has posted more information on SSDS, including a white paper (PDF format). We're here to give you the 1,000ish-word summary.

So what is SSDS?

Think of it as Salesforce.com for databases. It's aimed at Web-centric developers, especially those at startups, who don't want to manage their own database because of complexity, cost, or both.

While users will need to know popular Web 2.0 programming interfaces such as REST and SOAP in order to connect SSDS to other applications, they don't need to know traditional SQL to get at their data. Rather, data is queried using LINQ, a component of the .Net framework that is similar to SQL. Using Microsoft Sync Framework, it'll also be possible to synchronize with, for example, mobile devices.

Microsoft is taking applications for the private beta program today, and plans to launch the service in the first half of next year. That company says it will use a subscription pricing model for SSDS, though it hasn't given any details.

So what isn't SSDS?

While Microsoft is using SQL Server 2008 (and Windows Server 2008) on the back end, SSDS is nothing like a Web-hosted version of SQL Server. That product has been available for years, though from hosting partners rather than from Microsoft itself. In that scenario, users often still need to manage -- albeit remotely -- a full SQL Server database, and usually to also buy SQL Server licenses and the underlying hardware.

The downside is that SSDS won't initially offer anything close to the features of SQL Server, which, while considered enterprise-grade today, itself still lacks many of the features of an Oracle Database or IBM DB2.

SSDS may also not be the only cloud-based version of SQL Server that Microsoft is working on. Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet claims that Microsoft is readying other hosted versions of SQL Server, including one with the codename 'Blue.'

I work at a Fortune 500 company that already uses SQL Server. Would this be for me?

Maybe. While Microsoft is steering SSDS mainly at startups and Web-focused small to medium-sized companies that want to avoid the hassle of running their own on-premise database, it also says big companies that want to archive their data or share it other parties might consider SSDS. And due to its lower entry-level cost, departments within enterprises that want to start a Web project quickly (and without going through IT) may also like what SSDS offers.

Please don't tell me that Microsoft is actually pioneering this Web database space.

Not at all. On the one hand, Redmond is far ahead of the other leading relational database vendors -- meaning Oracle, IBM, MySQL, even Sybase and Teradata -- none of whom have announced any cloud database plans.

But there were already a plethora of companies, mostly startups, operating in what some are calling the Database 2.0 market. TrackVia is one. Others include CouchDB, DabbleDB, GoogleBase, Zoho Creator, and a fistful of others, according to IT.

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