zoho-logoAlready a popular provider of Cloud-based ‘Productivity & Collaboration Apps’ for individuals and ‘Business Apps’ for SMEs, Zoho today took the next step and unveiled CloudSQL.

As Dennis Howlett notes in his coverage for ZDNet,

“Put simply, this is the first step to providing a cloud based integration framework that allows developers to pass data between Zoho applications and their own. This is exciting stuff.  For the first time, a commercial software vendor is providing an easy way to interoperate with its applications without imposing an entry or exit visa tax.”
(my emphasis)

Writing in a Zoho blog post, Rodrigo Vaca reminds readers of the important role played by SQL;

“As far as computer languages go, SQL (Structured Query Language) is a pretty old one. It came to light in the early 1970s and it is probably not too popular with the Facebook generation. But the fact remains – SQL is a pretty awesome thing. It is by far one of the easiest and most efficient ways to query and interact with structured data. That’s why it remains by far one of the most heavily used languages for business applications.

But perhaps the most important role that SQL plays is that it makes developers think with a relational model in mind – and that means thinking about the best data structures for the application at hand.”

zohocloudsql

SQL remains an important tool within the big databases that heat corporate data centres around the planet, but it has not really kept pace with the move toward hosted services out in the Cloud. Vaca goes on to explain,

“Zoho CloudSQL is a middleware technology that allows customers to interact with their business data stored in Zoho through the familiar SQL language. Customers are able to access Zoho cloud data using SQL on both other cloud applications as well as through traditional on-premises software.”

Howlett continues his post, commenting;

“Making it easy to consume services in an integrated manner without the distinction of whether the data is on premise or in the cloud is an incredibly smart move. It means that you don’t have to throw out your existing accounting applications if you don’t want to while opening up the business to other cloud services that are gaining traction.”

There is clearly value in lowering the barrier to entry to new ways of working, and it is also important that Zoho CloudSQL could be positioned as platform and application agnostic, working as easily with Zoho applications as with those of the company’s competitors. Larry Dignan picks up on this, writing,

“With the move, Zoho is playing an anti-lock-in card. One of the biggest worries about software as a service is that your data–and your business–can be locked into one provider. Under Zoho’s plan, the company will allow third party applications to read and write data. In a nutshell, Zoho is allowing users to take their data via SQL.”

Krishnan Subramanian also zeroes in on data portability as an important aspect of Zoho’s announcement;

“I have been emphasizing on dataportability as an important ingredient for SaaS success. With the release of CloudSQL to access data stored in Zoho apps, they are opening up new vistas for Zoho users to backup their data. Pretty soon, we will be seeing apps that solves this problem using CloudSQL. Enterprises could find it easy to integrate data on Zoho apps with their “private clouds”. This will help in faster SaaS adaption in the enterprise segment. I have talked about a cloud strategy that includes diversification of SaaS vendors. If SaaS vendors make their data available through SQL, like Zoho has done using CloudSQL, it is possible to achieve tighter integration between various SaaS vendors. Such an integration will help users develop a Cloud Strategy which also includes diversification. There are several interesting possibilities that could open up as an ecosystem develops around CloudSQL.”

That said, though, the model remains one that is essentially focussed upon a single enterprise (what we called the Intranet, back in the old days) and its interactions with its own data.

Although not directly comparable with SQL by any means, Semantic Web specifications such as SPARQL could surely be considered more appropriate for a Cloud of Data in which applications pull the data they require from various systems scattered through the enterprise’s data centres, its hosted *aaS properties, and the data stores of its trusted partners across the Web.

As data moves to the Cloud, the game changes. CloudSQL simply represents an incremental move that will enable Zoho to grow, extending a comfort blanket to nervous DBAs seeking reasons to resist relinquishing control over their data. The real disruption will come when we take our thumbs out of our mouths, consign the comfort blankets to the back of the cupboard, and embrace the opportunities offered by a Cloud-based data ecosystem.

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