Google App Engine gains developer interest in battle with EC2, Azure

Business-oriented enhancements lead to increased developer interest, though cloud caution still rules

While the Google App Engine cloud platform has trailed Amazon and Microsoft clouds in usage, it is nonetheless gaining traction among developers. That interest was bolstered by Google's recent extension to its cloud, dubbed Google App Engine for Business, which is intended to make the cloud more palatable to enterprises by adding components such as service-level agreements and a business-scale management console.

Built for hosting Web applications, App Engine services more than 500,000 daily page views, but App Engine's 8.2 percent usage rate, based on a Forrester Research survey of developers in late 2009, trails far behind's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which has nearly a 41 percent share. Microsoft's newer Windows Azure cloud service edges out App Engine, taking a 10.2 percent share. Forrester surveyed 1,200 developers, but only about 50 of them were actually deploying to the cloud.

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Developer Mike Koss, launch director at, which hosts software development companies, is one of those using App Engine. "[The service is] for developers who want to write pure JavaScript programs and not have to manage their own cloud; they can write their app completely in JavaScript," Koss says. He adds that he likes cloud capabilities for data backup and availability.

Restraints on App Engine separate it in a good way from's cloud, Koss says: "App Engine abstracts away a lot of the details that developers need to understand to build scalable apps and you're a little bit more constrained on App Engine, so you kind of can't get into trouble like you can with an EC2." Amazon gives users a virtual box in which they are responsible for their own OS and security patches, whereas App Engine is abstracted at a higher level, he notes.

But not everyone believes App Engine is ready for prime time. "I think it's got a ways to go," says Pete Richards, systems administrator at Homeless Prenatal Program. "The data store technology for it is not very open, so I really don't know about getting information and out of that," he notes, referring to data access methods deployed in App Store. Still, "it's a promising platform," Richards says.

Cloud computing "is in the middle of something of a hype cycle," says Randy Guck, chief architect at Quest Software. But he thinks the cloud hype might be less than the hype a decade ago for SaaS (software as a service), something his company is now looking at developing using a cloud platform. "Right now, we're Microsoft-centric, so we're looking at Azure," Guck says, but he notes that Quest may have a role for App Engine in the future.

The question of whether the cloud is really ready for enterprise usage remains a key one for developers. As the Forrester study found, few are willing to commit now. InfoWorld's interviews echoed that caution. For example, Ryan Freng, a Web developer from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, says cloud computing is interesting but not something he would use anytime soon. "Right now, it's important that we maintain all our data and that we don't send it to the cloud," Freng says.

Likewise, independent developer Peter Svensson says the cloud is not an option for his customers, who rely on their own data centers. But he uses the cloud for personal projects and says he has high hopes for cloud computing. "I think cloud computing in conjunction with HTML5 is the way to go forward," Svensson says.

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