Service market is evolving constantly. We’re all used to applications served on-line as well as service APIs (for example Google’s or Amazon’s), but offering data (in “pay-as-you-consume” system) is something relatively new. Do you need stock prices? Weather data? Economic indicators? You can get it from someone who puts all the efforts to keep them up-to-date and valid (so you don’t have to care about that). Data is just the fuel, what you really need is an idea how to analyze / transform / process these data. Doesn’t it sound like a totally new palette of opportunities?

I’ve searched Azure Marketplace for data offers and currently (3rd of Dec, 2011) there are:
  • 56 free sources of data
  • 67 paid sources of data
  • 19 paid sources of data with free trial option
Majority of data has to be paid for, but you can easily find interesting data in free department as well. For instance, World Bank publishes world development indicators. Unfortunately, some of data may not be accessible in all geographical locations, but that’s something to be expected.
 
Fortunately it’s not only easy to access data served by an external provider - being such a provider is very easy as well. Thanks to standards like REST and OData you can set-up your WCF Data Services (earlier known as ADO.NET Data Services) within minutes. Needless to say, publishing such service to the cloud is trivial (if you follow basic security standards).
 
If you compare the efforts and investments you had to made to create a start-up 5-7 years ago with those you had to make today - world of today is just amazing.