Google App Engine becoming more useful

I’ve been trying out the cloud computing service Google App Engine for a simple dynamic site. I’ll publish more details on this as it gets further along.

I have heard and read a lot about App Engine, so I knew roughly what to expect, but I am still impressed with it. It is a very simple model, it’s basically CGI with a 10-second limit. Only the Python programming language is supported right now (although they plan to add more), and the Django web framework is pre-installed. There is a nice little SDK for running the environment locally, which I just noticed is open-source as well (Apache license).

The really incredible thing about this is that it runs on and takes advantage of Google’s massive server infrastructure. In-memory or persistent storage is super fast and easy to use, and no need to worry about redundancy of individual servers (this is probably why they use the CGI+shared storage model, way simpler to distribute applications on-demand).

Today the roadmap was updated to include a few very cool features coming later this year:

  • Support for running scheduled tasks
  • Task queues for performing background processing
  • Ability to receive and process incoming email
  • Support for sending and receiving XMPP (Jabber) messages

This environment being so easy to use and the cost being low due, which is likely because the price of hosting so marginal to Google (I imagine that they are effectively outsourcing spare capacity) plus these new features pretty much replace the need for a traditional shared or dedicated server.

They haven’t yet started charging for the service, but proposed pricing is available, and they plan to start charging this year. The price is quite low considering the feature set, is pay-per-use, and is comparable with the popular cloud computing service Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The difference between this and something like AWS is that while it is much easier to get from start to finish on Google App Engine, one must (likely) re-write your application in Python, using Google’s libraries. You’ve got less flexibility than a shared PHP host, for example; you can’t easily take your code elsewhere. AWS is on the other end of the spectrum, more like dedicated servers where you can install anything you want: Linux or Windows, PHP or .Net, etc.

In any case I highly recommend checking out Google App Engine, especially if you’re doing any new development. If you’re looking to move your existing servers to the cloud, then I think Amazon Web Services still has the edge here.

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