When Microsoft announced it was bringing query processing and storage capabilities into the cloud with its SQL Server Data Services offering, industry watchers took notice.
Time will tell, however, whether other major database players will follow suit with offerings of their own.
Microsoft's SQL Server Data Services is not exactly SQL Server on the Web; instead, it is meant as a scalable on-demand data storage and query processing Web service comparable, some analysts said, to Amazon's SimpleDB service.
But Microsoft's move comes at a time when there is increasing interest in online data storage, and leapfrogs plays by startups such as LongJump and more established companies such as EnterpriseDB to push databases into the cloud.
Still, Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg was skeptical as to whether the other two largest database vendors, IBM and Oracle, would follow Microsoft's lead.
"Maybe, but IBM more so than Oracle," Feinberg speculated. "Building the fabric to support this is expensive. That is why Amazon, Google, etc. have done it, as they already have the fabric and the knowledge to grow it."
With this offering, Microsoft is positioning itself to ensure that it will be one of a handful of clouding computing platform providers, said Matthew Aslett, an analyst with The 451 Group.
"As IBM and Sun deliver their own cloud computing platforms, they too can be expected to deliver similar online data storage and query capabilities," Aslett said. "Like SimpleDB, this is not a fully fledged hosted relational database but a simple storage and query service, and this is not competitive with the likes of Oracle Database."
To hear Microsoft tell it, the benefits of SQL Server Data Services lie in slashing the initial cost of investment in hardware and software and the perpetual cost of storage maintenance.
"Microsoft SSDS (SQL Server Data Services) enables customers to scale easily as data volume grows without any additional provisioning and operational investment," said Tudor Toma, group program manager at SQL Server. "Customers can query and modify data as required by the specific business scenarios."
The service supports standards-based REST (Representational State Transfer) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) interfaces designed to work with any Internet-development tool kit, and the primary wire format is XML, he said.
"Developers and service providers can quickly run applications with ease," Toma added. "The data has flexible schema which can be modified dynamically by the application. SSDS is built on industry-proven SQL Server database technology and provides business-ready services covering high availability, security and reliability."
Still, there are issues that may slow adoption of in-the-cloud databases: among them, security and pricing. Microsoft officials would provide no specifics about the pricing plan for SSDS, which for now is an invitation-only beta. An open beta is slated for later in 2008, Toma said.
"Given the potential data security, privacy and reliability concerns, enterprises should think carefully about what data they would be prepared to deploy to a database in the cloud at this early stage, but they should also be evaluating the potential hardware, software and maintenance savings that might be delivered by storing and querying non-sensitive data in the cloud," Aslett said.