Cloud database vendors: What, us worry about Microsoft?

SQL Server Data Services not inspiring panic in the competition

Web database vendors claim they aren't worried by Microsoft's just-announced SQL Server Data Services offering, saying their services are sufficiently established, different, and/or better than Redmond's to enable them to thrive when SSDS is released -- according to the current schedule, in the first half of next year.

There are more than a dozen services jockeying in this new field, which some are calling Database 2.0, and others are calling Database-as-a-Service.

They target Web-focused startups or small-to-medium-sized businesses by promising database features at a lower price than a standard relational database such as Oracle or Microsoft's SQL Server, and/or easier management than a free, open-source database such as MySQL.

SQL Server Data Services, or SSDS, promises the same features and qualities, along with tight integration with Microsoft products and technologies and, for good and bad, Microsoft's guarantees on security and uptime.

Some services are backed by vendors nearly as formidable as Microsoft. SimpleDB and S3 from Amazon.com is the most obvious, though there is also GoogleBase from Google.

Little guys, getting by

But how will smaller, lesser-known vendors compete against the expected Microsoft onslaught? Some, such as Intuit, say they already enjoy a large customer base. The software vendor, better-known for its Quicken and QuickBase personal and business finance software, has run the QuickBase SaaS service since 2000. It claims more than 225,000 paying customers, including XM Radio, Google, JetBlue Airways, Bank of America, Southwest Airlines and more.

Their target users are not exactly the same, either. SSDS users are expected to be mostly Web developers. QuickBase users, meanwhile, tend to be non-technical business users, who either rent apps from third-party vendors to manipulate the stored data or build them themselves without any programming skills, according to Bill Lucchini, vice-president and general manager of Intuit QuickBase.

QuickBase helps users "create data entry forms, reports, alerts, manage user access, and more." he said. Microsoft's "offering might be interesting to some IT departments but it will be far out of reach of business users or consultants who are driving the future of SaaS apps."

Chris Basham, president of Trackvia, agrees.

"The single biggest need in databases today is giving non-developers an easy way to interact with a database," said Basham, "and this is what Trackvia is better at than any other product out there."

The US startup launched last year. It claims about 2,000 paying users today, about double in eight months, including many that use it as the back end for their Web site.

Trackvia has grown, Basham said, because of its easy-to-use interface and speedy performance, especially relative to competitors.

Microsoft claims SSDS is similarly simple to use. But because it uses SQL Server 2008 as its engine, Microsoft will be able to keep exposing more and more features until it nearly matches SQL Server 2008. But Basham says his firm can keep pace, noting that Trackvia is close to updating its user interface and adding relational fields into Trackvia so that it becomes "a true relational database."

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