Google to App Engine customers: Don't call us, we'll call you

Google charges $500 a month for 'premier' App Engine support, but weekday-only hours stop at 6 p.m. Is that how to treat customers?

When was the last time you knocked off work at 6 p.m.? If you're a developer or an IT hand, you probably can't remember. But if you're a Google App Engine customer and need help at, say, 6:01 p.m., you'll find that customer support is closed. If support were free, that would certainly be understandable. But App Engine customers who opt for the $500-a-month Premier service, are no better off -- support stops at 6 p.m. Pacific time for them, too. (It reopens at midnight, leaving a six-hour gap.) Got a problem on the weekend or a holiday? Sorry, nobody's home.

How come a company that earned $2.5 billion in just three months this year can't provide decent customer support to business or consumers? Google blew it when it launched the Nexus One Android smartphone with no provision for support. It also angered small-business owners who find they can get no help when some clown alters their Google Places listing to fool people into thinking they are out of business. Now it's shortchanging companies that use App Engine to supplement meager in-house resources. See the pattern?

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App Engine, which has 200,000 customers, according to Google, is hardly the high end of cloud services. But neither is Amazon Web Services, where customers who pay just $400 a month can get round-the-clock support.

Making matters much worse, Google last spring raised App Engine prices significantly, leaving some developers complaining. When I asked Google about this, the company ducked the question, saying only that it offers premier support service during business hours in the United States and Europe "and looks forward to expanding coverage in the future."

The dream is dead
Google's Jessie Jiang, a group product manager, announced the support options in his blog on Tuesday: "So today, we are launching Google App Engine Premier Accounts. For $500 per month, you'll receive premier support, a 99.95-percent uptime service level agreement, and the ability to create unlimited number of apps on your premier account domain."

If downtime falls below 99.95 percent for a month, Google customers can obtain credits toward future monthly bills. That's a bit different than Amazon.com's agreement, which offers a service level of 99.95 percent over the service year, and better than Microsoft's Windows Azure's 99.5 percent uptime promise. (However, I wouldn't hold up Microsoft's cloud services as a model of reliability, not after a major September outage.)

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