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Google Plays the Platform Game

So Google has gone into the developer collection business. It’s a move akin to grinding up glass and stirring it into Microsoft’s supper.

At least Google hopes it is.

It’s making the web the platform, making Netscape look like kid’s stuff.

Monday evening, at a gathering called Campfire One, Google unveiled App Engine, a hosted web application platform that offers web developers free use of Google’s mighty infrastructure and all the building blocks that Google uses for its own applications.

Amusingly, it’s as vendor lock-in and importable as anything Microsoft in its heyday ever dreamed up. That, however, didn’t stop Google from immediately filling the 10,000 spaces it made available for App Engine’s initial beta.

The offer goes like this: Google will provide web developers with 500MB of storage, 200 million megacycles of CPU power a day and 10GB of bandwidth a day, enough, it thinks, to serve around five million pageviews a month.


It is also kicking in dynamic web serving, persistent storage, automatic scaling and load balancing, Google APIs for authenticating users and sending e-mail, and a reportedly full-featured local development environment.

In a siren song it’s promising to do everything for the developer short of writing his code including the spur that if his program proves popular he won’t have to rearchitect the darn thing every six to nine months because of increased traffic.

The idea, it says, is to relieve developers of system admin and maintenance chores and make it easy to create and run web applications, knowing full well that every web application deployed is a nasty paper cut for Microsoft.

Death by a thousand cuts,

Eventually Google expects to charge those who use more than the basic resources. Presumably that means for more than it takes to serve five million pageview a month; it’s kinda cloudy, so to speak, on that point and completely cloudy on what exactly it will charge, but it did say it intends to keep the basic level free after it opens App Engine to wider use. And when that might be is, of course, also unclear.

App Engine is something like Amazon Web Services (AWS) except that Amazon’s offering is a la carte – letting people choose to use, say, the unbundled Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) computing engine, S3 storage or SimpleDB database – while Google’s is a 12-course meal and ya gotta eat every one.

Users even have to have a Google account to access a service and the experience is expected to inch them toward using Google Docs and YouTube – and only another step to Google-placed AdSense advertising.

Google will control the development environment end-to-end.

And the presumption is that App Engine will give Google a superb observation post to spot trends and pick off winners for acquisition early on. There is also the risk of them hijacking ideas – even the code kind – and it’s got all the clickstream and user data.

Oh boy, and you thought Microsoft was a dominant pain in the neck.

IBM is supposedly moving in a similar direction with a project code named Kittyhawk and Microsoft is supposed to be readying an entry.

Anyway, App Engine gives developers access to the Google File System (GFS), the scalable widgetry for large distributed data-intensive apps, and Bigtable, the company’s distributed storage system shared by such as Google Earth that’s meant to handle petabytes of data across thousands of servers.

There are some hazards however. Google may prove to be a strict taskmaster. Mess with them and you’re off the air. And that includes eating too many resources or exceeding the quotas, which currently means only 65,000 http requests and 2,000 e-mails a day and queries that return at most a thousand results. It also means only three applications per developer.

Code can only be written in Python 2.5 and some Python modules written in C are disabled; AJAX techniques and JavaScript are apparently okay. Google is promising to add other languages. You can also forget MySQL and Postgres and other third-party packages. Oh, and for what it’s worth the App Engine datastore is not a traditional RDBMS.

The App Engine SDK runs on Linux, Windows and Mac and can be download so code can be written offline then uploaded.

Google says App Engine isn’t feature-complete. One of the things it might think of adding is service level agreements. Ditto backup. It’s already thinking of support for offline applications.


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