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I'm looking for a hosted database solution that allows you to define both the back-end (tables, views, relationships) as well as the front-end (forms, reports, ...).

Both the number of tables as well as the record count is pretty low: about 15 tables and less than 10.000 records in total (for all tables).

The focus is on data presentation: the data itself will hardly change, so I don't mind doing that in the back-end. But I need the presentation layer to be flexible enough to handle things such as:

  • crosstabs (pivot tables)
  • conditional formatting
  • charting

My requirements:

  • A fully hosted solution
  • No coding, other than some minor JS, HTML or CSS hacking
  • Mature database back-end (i.e. not trying to hide this from the designer)
  • Import data (e.g. from CSV) and bulk updates
  • Customizable front-end
  • Extensive charting features
  • Notification features (send out mail if certain criteria are met)
  • Good customer support

Bonus points for:

  • An API in order to integrate with other web platforms

My background:

I have an extensive RDBMS background (Oracle, SQL Server) as well as programming (Java, Python, ...) but I don't have the time nor the resources to set this up myself.

Past experiences:

I've already tried the following vendors:

Each of them failed for one or more reasons. The best back-end and customizable front-end was Caspio, but they have very poor charting features. Also, as you write small components (called datapages), you still need to create the glue between them (i.e. the actual application) and host that somewhere. Caspio could've made the cut, but they asked a four-figure amount for setting up 3 database triggers, which I found rather preposterous.

QuickBase was easy to set-up, but has a very backward way of dealing with table relationships. Also, charting abilities are still lacking in some areas and the notification functionality is crippled.

TrackVia tries too hard to shield the user from the back-end, and I had nothing but issues while testing out Knack, so that trial came to an early end.

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Since you have experience with SQL Server, I'd recommend that you look at LightSwitch. You can easily host the applications and DB up on Azure.

For the charting/reporting you can look at hosting SSRS in Azure, which should cover your needs and then some, or using an external JavaScript library if you don't need pixel-perfect reporting (such as d3.js, etc.). Another option, since it'd be a SQL server on the back-end would be connecting Excel directly to the database using something like PowerPivot and normal Excel voodoo to analyze the data.

As a bonus, with the release of Visual Studio Community (which is basically Visual Studio Pro for individuals and teams of 5 or fewer people), you can do all of the development for free. You'd just need to follow the instructions here to get both Visual Studio and LightSwitch.

  • Thanks @Nathan, very interesting suggestion. I'm currently giving Knack another go, which is going better than it did the first time, but this is quite a comprehensive alternative. – ƘɌỈSƬƠƑ Nov 25 '14 at 20:45

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