Caspio: A SaaS provider with a different approach

* Caspio Bridge for building and deploying database-driven Web applications

Most Software-as-a-Service providers base their offerings on the most generic technologies to make sure that they reach the broadest possible audience. Not so for SaaS provider Caspio.

Caspio’s service, Caspio Bridge, offers a very sophisticated system for building and deploying database-driven Web applications and unlike their competitors in this market they don’t use Ajax or Flash – they use COM objects. In fact, the entire Caspio Bridge back end is built on Microsoft’s .Net framework and Microsoft SQL server.

The consequence of this orientation is that for building Web applications the service only supports Internet Explorer 6.0+ running under Windows. Note that this reliance on IE is not an issue for users, as any browser that supports JavaScript and cookies can be used to access the applications.

The advantage of using COM objects for Caspio is that all of the complex, messy parts of building a user interface are pre-packaged. In addition, because the entire data input/output is solely between the browser and the hosting site with normal security settings, IE’s sandboxing doesn’t require explicit user permission to run.

After registering and logging in, a new window is launched with a secure (HTTPS) connection to the Caspio servers. You are presented with a customized window built from the IE control (in other words, its presentation is completely customized).

The initial window within the Caspio Bridge window is the “explorer” which provides access to tables; views (a collection of any or all fields in a table); datapages (Web forms linked to views); styles (skins for datapages); localizations (which are applied as attributes to datapages); and files (images to be included in datapages as well as files to be uploaded or downloaded by users). If you want to integrate external data services Caspio Bridge also offers a Web Services API.

The process of building a Web application through the Caspio Bridge interface is fairly straightforward and when the application is ready you simply click the deploy button. This produces a dialog from which you select whether the application is externally published, whether it should be accessed via SSL, and the output format. The formats offered are the code for a frame or an inline frame; a URL (a Web page containing the datapage); a link (that links to a URL); or as code to embed in an existing Web page.

With all but the basic account you can set up other users with full or limited administrative access to each of the parts (datapages, tables, and so on) of each application (the most limited access might be to a single view in read-only mode).

To get you started, Caspio Bridge provides a number of free applications for use in all but the basic accounts. These include real estate listings, task management, a membership directory, a job posting system, and a general contact form. In fact the company claims over 40,000 applications have been created to date and they even offer training classes (currently $995 per attendee) on “Rapid Web Database Applications.”

Pricing ranges from free for the basic single administrator SOHO account with two datapages, 5MB of storage, and 10MB of monthly data transfer to the Standard-100 account with 100 datapages, 800MB of storage, and 8GB of monthly data transfer for $599.95 per month. There is also a In-house Installable Edition and corporate versions that offer dedicated hosting options (pricing by request).

Bottom line: This is the only SaaS provider that I’ve come across that uses such a thoroughly Microsoft-centric architecture and the results are impressive. The Caspio Bridge service is polished, performs well, and is competitively priced. The company rather looks like a good acquisition target for Microsoft.

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