The move to the cloud has been a big trend for technology vendors this year. However, businesses haven’t been so fast to follow. Moving to the cloud entails making many application-related changes. Even so, the cloud promises scalability and cost savings that make it worth considering. The cloud in this case is SQL Azure, formerly SQL Data Services, Microsoft’s SQL Server-based database cloud offering. Let’s look at seven things you need to know about SQL Azure.

1. SQL Azure is based on SQL Server.
Using SQL Azure is much like using an on-premise version of SQL Server. However, the initial release of SQL Azure offers only a subset of SQL Server’s features. SQL Azure will provide basic relational database capabilities but initially won’t offer BI functionality such as Analysis Services or Reporting Services.

2. SQL Azure runs on Microsoft hardware.
Servers hosted in Microsoft’s data centers provide the SQL Azure services. Databases you create on these servers are available on a global scale. Microsoft personnel perform the hardware operations and management.

3. SQL Azure supports T-SQL.
SQL Azure supports most T-SQL statements as well as a full range of DML and DDL commands. It doesn’t support commands that affect the underlying hardware, such as the resource governor. SQL Azure also supports most SQL Server data types including bigint, bit, decimal, int, money, numeric, smallint, smallmoney, tinyint and char, varchar, but not the LOB data types and not the newer geo-spatial data types.

4. SQL Azure uses TDS.
Just like on-premise SQL Server, SQL Azure supports client connections using the native SQL Server tabular data stream (TDS). You can create SQL Azure applications using a variety of development tools including Visual Studio, and you can use such middleware as ODBC, OLE DB, ADO.NET, or PHP. SQL Azure uses SQL Server authentication, not Windows.

5. SQL Azure is a service.
SQL Azure can’t access hardware, so you can’t do backup. Instead, you must use a data copy function like BCP. Other things that aren’t available include using sp_configure to change server options, and SQL Profiler.

6. SQL Azure comes in two editions.
SQL Azure Web Edition will support a maximum of 1GB of data and will be priced at $9.99 per month. SQL Azure Business edition will include up to 10GB of data and will cost $99.99 per month.

7. SQL Azure goes live in November.
You can check out the SQL Azure CTP at the MSDN site.