Microsoft offers free repository for agency data

Microsoft has set up a repository in which government agencies may upload and store their public-facing datasets so that they can be reused by other parties.

Microsoft has set up a repository in which government agencies may upload and store their public-facing datasets so that they can be reused by other parties.

Agency developers can upload their data to this repository, called the Open Government Data Initiative (OGDI), through Microsoft's Azure, the company's cloud-computing offering.

Potential users can then access the resulting datasets via a Web page, or by an Atom Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed. They can also query a large dataset on the Web page by formulating a Microsoft's ADO.Net Data Services query.

Perhaps more importantly, the data can be ingested by other computer programs as well, using either a Representational State Transfer (REST)-based Web service, a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) call, or, if the data is geographic in nature, through the Keyhole Markup Language (KML), among other protocols.

Since taking the role of federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra has urged agencies to make more of their data open to the public in easy-to-use formats. To this end, the General Services Administration, on behalf of Kundra, is setting up a repository of government feeds, to be called Data.gov. Data.gov will both serve as a repository for data and as an index for government data located elsewhere, Kundra told GCN.

OGDI came about as a way to introduce Azure to the federal information technology community, said Susie Adams, Microsoft Federal chief technology officer. "The government wants to store all this data, what with Kundra talking about Data.gov. We asked if you were to use Azure as data source, [what would you need to do]?"

So the division built a starter kit that acts as a guide to how agencies can post data to Azure, using Visual Studio. The data is stored in Azure, in SQL Tables. Eventually Microsoft will move Azure data over to its SQL Data Services, she said.

In addition to Microsoft's effort, at least one other company has volunteered to rehost government data for wider use. Amazon is offering to store public-domain datasets for users of its Elastic Compute Cloud service.

As examples, Microsoft has assembled two sets of government data on the site, a compilation of per-diem rates from the GSA and a number of data feeds from the city of Washington.

Each dataset also includes sample code that can be inserted into other programs that will allow them to access the data automatically. The code comes in the C#, PHP, Python, ActionScript, JavaScript, Silverlight and Ruby languages.

Agencies interested in publishing their datasets can contact Microsoft Federal, at askogdi@microsoft.com.

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