Google Opens a Web App Playground in the Cloud

Google unveiled a preview version of its new hosted Web application platform, Google App Engine, late Monday. The new service is more than a simple database-style platform; rather, it provides developers of Web apps with a hosted solution upon which they can write their applications.

Google App Engine is a way for developers to run their Web applications using Google’s extensive infrastructure. The company’s goal is to make it easier for developers to get their applications up and running and also make it easier to scale once millions of users begin using the application. Google compared the new service to Blogger, its weblog application.

“In the same way that Blogger made it easy to create a blog, Google App Engine is designed from the ground up to make it easy to create and run Web applications,” said Kevin Gibbs, tech lead for Google App Engine.

App Engine, according to Google, will also make the applications built using it run more reliably no matter the load or amount of data.

Applicable Technology

Google App Engine will enable developers to write Web apps built upon the same “building blocks” Google uses, such as GFS and Bigtable, the company explained. The development environment will feature the following:

  • Dynamic Web serving, with full support of common Web technologies
  • Persistent storage powered by Bigtable and GFS with queries, sorting and transactions
  • Automatic scaling and load balancing
  • Google application programming interfaces for authenticating users and sending e-mail
  • A fully featured local development environment

At the outset, App Engine will only support applications written in Python version 2.5.2. The runtime environment includes the full Python language and most of the Python standard library. Google, however, plans to add support for other languages over time.

Developers can opt to receive a free domain name on the appspot.com domain or serve their application from their own domain. Applications will run in a secure sandbox environment that offers limited access to the underlying operating system, Google said. This enables App Engine to distribute Web requests for any one application across multiple servers as well as start and stop servers based on traffic demands.

It also isolates an application within a secure cocoon that is independent of the hardware, operating system and physical location of the Web server.

During the preview, Google has limited the number of users to 10,000 developers. The free accounts can use up to 500 MB of storage and enough central processing unit and bandwidth to support 5 million page views per month.

Small Guy, Big Traffic

The new service is aimed at smaller developers, who tend to be more aggressive with these services than their larger counterparts, said Gordon Haff, principle IT adviser at Illuminata.

“Small from a development resources view does not necessarily translate into small from a, for example, Web page traffic view,” he pointed out.

These companies, lacking a huge, existing legacy infrastructure, have the freedom larger enterprises lack and are able to go and source their IT in the most efficient way.

“Google App Engine is a fairly specific IT environment. This isn’t necessarily going to be the answer to 100 percent of a company’s computing needs. This is in some ways a more monolithic service than what Amazon offers. Amazon offers a component sale, whereas Google says ‘we’ll run your code,'” Haff explained.

Joining the Cloud Crowd

Google joins companies including Amazon and Salesforce.com in offering cloud-based computing services.

For its part, Google already has a well-established presence in the Software as a Service (SaaS) area of the cloud computing market. Similar to but not the same as Amazon’s EC2, S3 and SimpleDB service, App Engine falls somewhere between Amazon’s hardware as a service offering and a SaaS play, Haff told TechNewsWorld.

The market will likely not settle on one specific approach, according to Haff. For example, the Salesforce.com solution offers users more or less complete applications that users can customize or expand. Alternately, they may want to purchase computing from Amazon to do whatever they wish with it. Google, on the other hand, offers a blank slate that fits in between the service provided by its two competitors.

“This is clearly different from what Amazon is offering, but is part of a continuing trend. It is not really a big surprise to anyone that Google was going to step into this space. The only real questions were how and when,” he said.

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