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Welcome to the Cloud

January 1, 2010

Computers keep getting faster – that’s a given (Moore’s Law). In the server room, the servers are also cheaper and faster than ever. But a nice database server will still cost $10K – $25K+ and the licenses can cost $7-120K. Non-profit licenses help reduce the cost, but the server room, cooling and power, and the staff to maintain it is still expen$ive.

That’s about to change.

I’ve been looking forward to the database in the cloud for a while. Yesterday I ported the beta version of our ministry CRM application into the cloud, specifically our test database is now hosted by the CTP version of Microsoft SQL Azure. If you’re paying attention to your ministry’s dollars then this is the near future for your ministry.

Here’s my First Look at Microsoft’s database in the cloud:

Fast: We run a thick client application making stored procedure calls and returning a small dataset, so the bandwidth requirement is tiny. Using my home DSL connection, every search consistently returns data in about 105ms. For many searches it feels like the search results are there at the same time at the same instant I clicked on the search button. SQL Azure is fast, very fast.

Highly Available: Microsoft keeps three copies of your database on three servers geographically spread around the world. Each query is sent to all three servers and fastest reply is sent to the user. Usign this method for high-availability, Microsoft commits to 3-nines (99.9%) monthly availability. No need for clustered servers, no need for a back-up server, no need for back-up power supplies or dual grid connections to the power grid, no need a disaster recovery site. Think you can’t depend on the Internet for your application? Try unplugging your internet connection for an hour and see the response. Your Internet is probably as stable as your electrical power.

Global: Anyone in your organization anywhere in the world with an internet connection can easily access the database. The HQ, the volunteer at the concert, the partner organization in London, the VP on the road, the field office in Lima Peru, or the field worker in a village in Africa with a data cell phone can all see the current data. No replication nightmares. No additional servers and staff in every office. No duplicate data in partner organizations. No confusion.

Scalable: Your database can start small and grow. In fact, Microsoft has tested SQL Azure with a Fortune 100 company with a 1.3 Petabyte database and it ran faster than their local data center. You read that right. 1.3 Petabytes is 1,300 Terabytes or 1.3 million Gigabytes of data. As you grow, you only pay for what you need. No need to guess how much server to buy. No need to go back to the executive committee and ask for more money to upgrade. In fact, no more server upgrades ever.

Privacy: This is the last objection to the cloud. But you can be sure that Microsoft is on top of security. And you can always encrypt your data before it goes to the database. For our ministry CRM application, we encrypt some data. I’d be very surprised if your current data center was as secure as SQL Azure.

Cheap: Priced like a web site hosting package, Microsoft has said that the initial version of SQL Azure will cost $10/month for the web edition (1Gb database) and the Business Edition (10Gb database) is $99/month. If your database is alrger than this (and don’t store blobs int eh database) then you’ll need to shred, or partition, the data. Bandwidth is  $0.10 in / $0.15 out / GB – a few dollars a month if your application is well designed. No hardware capital expenses, no server administrators or admin DBAs, no Windows Server or SQL Server licenses, no maintenance contracts, no power bills.

So tell me again why you have a $2 million budget for your server room?

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