Zoho connects cloud, internal SQL data

Zoho, maker of an on-demand suite of business and productivity applications, on Tuesday announced CloudSQL, a new service that lets developers use the ubiquitous SQL to connect Zoho data with other cloud-based or on-premises applications.

SQL is a "pretty old" language but is also "pretty awesome," said Zoho's director of marketing, Rodrigo Vaca, in a blog post Tuesday. "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."

Cloud computing has ushered in new methods of data retrieval and storage, leading to "improved, faster and more responsive Web applications," Vaca added. "But while there are some SQL-like approaches for cloud computing out there, they tend to be fairly limited and not as powerful as the full-blown SQL."

CloudSQL supports a wide range of SQL variants, including ANSI, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2 and MySQL.

The service "serves as the bridge between the external application and the data stored inside Zoho. It receives the query in SQL, interprets it, delegates queries and aggregates results across the Zoho services," Vaca wrote.

The company has also developed a JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) driver and is working on an ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) driver. This means developers "can just continue using SQL drivers and statements as they already regularly interact with their premises-based databases using JDBC or ODBC drivers," Zoho said in a statement.

Initially, Zoho Reports, a business intelligence and reporting service, will support CloudSQL. Other products, including Zoho CRM, will support it down the road.

Zoho's announcement represents an attempt to win over IT specialists who haven't been quite ready to embrace the cloud-computing model, one observer suggested Tuesday.

"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," wrote Paul Miller, a blogger who tracks trends in cloud computing and the semantic Web.

For now, CloudSQL is available at no cost. Zoho, which is a division of the Pleasanton, Calif., company AdventNet, will monitor usage and decide whether it needs to begin charging for it, according to a representative.

CloudSQL is somewhat unusual in that it lets users connect their Zoho apps and others in a free and broadly compatible manner, instead of forcing them to use a proprietary tool that carries a price tag, said Redmonk analyst Michael Coté.

"Access to data is the key problem for all these [cloud-based applications]," he said. "That's where the lock-in is, it seems, in such offerings. Whoever controls access to the data can control pricing."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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