During my presentations at SQLBits, SQLRelay and other UK User Group meetings, I have been dismayed by the lack of awareness of the Windows Azure Marketplace. This blog aims to explore some of the reasons that this may be happening, and I'd also like to canvass you, dear reader, so you can highlight the data sources that you would like to have in the Datamarket.
First of all, the Windows Azure Datamarket is not to be confused with the Datamarket, which is a company based in Iceland which sounds similar. The Windows Azure Datamarket is a broad reaching collection of subscription-based data services, including applications and a variety of data for consumers and businesses to utilise. It is available in 26 countries, as at the time of writing in October 2011. It is a marketplace in the sense that it is possible to purchase and sell data and applications. The types of data available include financial, property, geographical data, retail data and even fun sports data. The data from the Windows Azure Marketplace can be consumed by Excel, Tableau and Visual Studio.
One intention of the Windows Azure Marketplace is that it will support business analysts everywhere, in their quest for clean, up-to-date data. I believe it is potentially a very powerful source of data for enterprises. For example, by provisioning clean, "looked after", up-to-date datasets, it can reduce the amount of effort in looking after external data. In other words, companies who already 'clean up' external data sets might look to the Windows Azure Marketplace in order to see if there are existing datasets that could be rented. It's the old problem of 'outsource or internal spend' - but at least it is good to have options to explore.
So, given the potential for the Windows Azure Marketplace as a potential data store, why the lack of awareness or uptake? Out of my recent travels to various User Groups, SQLBits and so on, hardly anybody had heard of it, never mind actually used it in production. I am guessing that one reason for this is that the data stores aren't plentiful with UK-focused datastores. My research showed that there were a number of UK data sources available. These included:
In other words, not very many sources! My search was hampered for the fact that the search string must contain at least three characters. Therefore, if you are searching for 'UK' then you are stuffed! I am guessing that the uptake isn't very strong since the UK-focused data needs to be grown. In my opinion, I guess that this will happen over time. Since there is an Excel add-in for the Marketplace, the route to uptake of this service is clear. I think that this will take time, and it is potentially a very powerful tool for analysts and researchers.
Hence this blog: I am wondering what UK data sources you would like to see? Here is my list of free data sources that I'd love to see on the Marketplace as a one-stop-shop for data requirements:
The Guardian Datastore - basically anything that they produce. Love it!
UK Census data - since the next Census is out soon in the UK, it would be particularly relevant to have this information
The Data Archive - Social Sciences and Humanities data for the UK. Not as esoteric as they might sound since they also discuss the future of data sources. This is a reflective data store, and I'd recommend that you take a look at it.
Health and Safety Executive Data - Risk Control, Public health and comparison with other European countries
Heidi - I have never been able to access this, but it is available to Education planners.
The Treasury also offer UK data on finance and key financial indicators
The Bank of England offers a wealth of financial data, focused on the UK
Office for National Statistics - data on agriculture, children, economy, government, travel... you name it!
If you can think of any other data sources you would like to see on the Windows Azure Datamarket, then please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you and you'd also satisfy my never-ending thirst for more data sources!