I’ve been using SQL Azure for several months now both for messing around (kicking the tires if you will) and for hosting a real database. I have a database with research data running in SQL Azure and I use Excel to connect to the database. I even share this out with others on my team. It works great and I don’t have to worry about back-ups, patching, up-time, etc.

I bet your sitting there thinking you should try out this cloud database stuff but you’re not sure where or how to get started, am I close? I have some good news for you, we recently published a getting started guide for SQL Azure. You can download it here. The guide provides step-by-step instructions, with pictures, for setting up your Windows Azure Platform subscription and configuring your SQL Azure environment.

Be sure to read carefully the section regarding firewall settings. I got hung up on this and it took me a little while to get it properly configured; your internal and external IP Addresses may be different. The “Add Firewall Rule” window will show you your external IP address. This is the one you want to use when enabling an IP range, not your internal IP Address.

The guide also contains links to more information on developing and deploying databases on SQL Azure, managing databases and logins, and a Transact-SQL reference – remember SQL Azure is a subset of the full Transact-SQL query language.

We’re working on a Silverlight-based database management tool for SQL Azure under the code name “Houston”. You can read and see more here. In the meantime you’ll want to download SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) from here for an interactive experience. For more information on which tools support SQL Azure check out the SQL Azure team’s blog here.

Getting started with SQL Azure is fast and easy. You’ll be up and running faster than you can say “now which folder did I download SQL Server to?”