Amazon.com put its latest cloud-based developer tool into beta testing in mid-December, likely after extensive internal testing.
SimpleDB, a Web-based database designed to interface with Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) online storage solution and its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) online application-hosting service, "is not a simple Web service," said Jeffrey Hammond, senior analyst in application development at Forrester Research.
SimpleDB was created for developers that need a less expensive, easy-to-use database for real-time queries. The applications it supports are by and large unrelated to Amazon's core e-commerce business, but were developed within the growing Amazon solutions platform. They connect to popular content-sharing sites such as SmugMug, Flickr, Second Life and Photobucket and other online destinations at which registered users upload files to Amazon's storage service.
"Amazon has a platform for a large, broadscale site that it used for its online store, and it has taken parts of it and released it in chunks," said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner. "SimpleDB is the most recent part of the platform."
And although each part functions independently, "most developers that use one piece use more than one," he said.
"It's a question of what sort of applications is it painful for developers to get their own operations group to set up and maintain a dedicated database for?" Hammond said.
"If you are involved in a departmental level application, trying to do some innovation design or building an Web-centric app, it would be quicker to use SimpleDB to experiment as opposed to getting a P.O. cut to get in a new database server and then wrangle with the company [database administrators] to get it set up and supported."
Another strength of SimpleDB and one likely to increase its adoption is the open functionality of the offering – something not seen in competing databases from Salesforce.com, which is restricted to the Salesforce.com community.
"It's very much apples and oranges right now because the market is young," Valdes said. "They are building blocks that make sense, and each is useful in its own right."
As with other cloud-based computing solutions, Web database innovations buck tradition.
"A traditional database has its own way of modeling data based on SQL, but that's not the way programs are written," Valdes said. "They're written with objects, and most new app engines are not using SQL. Even Microsoft is not using SQL data services."
But while some developers have reservations about having their data up in the clouds, Amazon's SimpleDB adoption is expected to be among the highest of all providers.
"Amazon is a serious competitor in cloud-based computing among Microsoft, IBM and other pioneering industry heavyweights," said Hammond. "They are an early mover, and their scale on the consumer side makes them their own best test customer. As a result of supporting their own effect to run on commodity hardware, they've developed software expertise on how to ‘scale out' that puts them at the leading edge of Web-scale computing."
"It could all go away," Valdes said of cloud computing. "It's vulnerable."
However, developers who either encrypt highly sensitive data or relegate it to a more traditional database will benefit.
"I think developers are interested, and more experienced developers, particularly those at software start-ups have already taken the plunge," Hammond said. "I've spoken with numerous start-ups who use Amazon's EC2 and S3 to ramp-up quickly and to keep their operations expenses under tight control."
For development tools that synch nicely with an operation platform, Microsoft and IBM have an edge, he said.
But Amazon's SimpleDB excels at data stored and queried in small chunks, and "Amazon is trying to build more pieces" to its platform, Valdes said. "That's the focus."
"All these offerings have some unique characteristics, but that's less the point than who offers the lowest cost, straightforward, easy-to-use storage service that developers can take advantage of quickly," Hammond said. "This is more about commodity than capability."
Kelly Shermach is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who frequently writes about technology and data security. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.