With the release of SQL Azure, Microsoft is now offering serious database users the ability to put their databases in the cloud. SQL Azure is a relational database that supports Transact-SQL using Microsoft SQL Server Technology but allowing you to place all of the server and operating system administration tasks in the hands of Microsoft Engineers.
Some of the features you'll obtain by using SQL Azure are:
- Simplified administration, leaving the management of the database platform, operating system and hardware in the hands of others
- Scalable resources, allowing you to quickly add or remove resources as your needs change
- Integration with ODBC, PHP and ADO.NET data access
- Management through SQL Server Management Studio (using the version shipped with SQL Server 2008 R2 or later)
- Most of the basic functionality of Microsoft SQL Server
It's important to recognize that, while SQL Azure is a cloud-based alternative to Microsoft SQL Server, it is not the same as a hosted SQL Server environment. There are several important distinctions
- Databases are limited to 10GB.
- Some datatypes (specifically the CLR datatypes which include geospatial data) are not supported
- Vague warnings that your connection may be terminated for "excessive resource usage"
If you'd like to give SQL Azure a try, there are two different versions available:
- Web edition includes up to 1GB of data storage for $9.99 per month
- Business edition includes up to 10GB of data storage for $99.99 per month
Note that SQL Azure does not currently support databases larger than 10GB. In addition to these monthly fees, Microsoft charges $0.10/GB for inbound data transfers and $0.15/GB for outbound data transfers.
Overall, SQL Azure is a very interesting product and may be quite appealing to those in a specific niche seeking high-performance cloud-based databases under 10GB. However, most web users will probably find that they can find similar pricing from various ISPs that include the cost of web hosting. Expect to see SQL Azure grow in popularity as it rolls out more scalable solutions supporting more advance SQL Server functionality.