Google April 7 launched the test version of Google App Engine, a tool designed to let programmers build Web applications on top of Google's infrastructure.
The tool, launched at a developer event on the company's Mountain View, Calif., campus after speculation by TechCrunch and other blogs, is an alternative to cloud computing infrastructure from Amazon Web Services, which as a unit of electronic retailer Amazon.com lets customers procure computing and storage infrastructure as a utility.
Similarly, Google App Engine aims to let programmers write code once and deploy it. Google, with its claimed 1 million servers, will do the rest to ensure that the applications scale.
Many analysts say they believe this approach symbolizes the future of computing, where customers will fill their computing and storage needs using a Web-based data center hosted by another vendor rather than buy, provision and configure multiple machines for Web serving and storage themselves.
In the new model, not only do Web programmers save themselves the time and hassle of setting up the gear, but they don't have to conduct system administration or maintenance; vendors like Google and Amazon.com do all the work.
Google App Engine is primed to handle the all-too-common traffic spikes that retailers and content owners face for products in high demand or for popular events.
To combat this, Google said it uses automatic replication and load balancing, along with its Bigtable database system, to help the Apps Engine scale.
Moreover, Apps Engine will integrate with Google services such as Gmail, because "it's unnecessary and inefficient for developers to write components like authentication and e-mail from scratch for each new application," the company said. Developers using Google App Engine will be able to use Google's broader library of APIs.
That Google would start hosting other people's applications is hardly a shock. The company has spent the last five years delivering SAAS (software as a service) applications such as Gmail and Docs that can scale to millions of petabytes and users thanks to Google's lineup of servers in massive data centers dotting the globe.
No one but Google knows for sure what lies in the data centers, but many speculate it's a host of rack-mount servers stacked together running Hadoop, Linux and just about any piece of open-source software that works.
The bigger question is: How will Amazon Web Services respond? Will it cut the price of its already cheap EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) infrastructure, which runs 10 to 80 cents per instance hour, and its S3 (Simple Storage Service), which costs 15 cents per gigabyte per month?
And what will Google ultimately charge for this service when it emerges from beta?
The preview release of Google App Engine is limited to the first 10,000 developers that sign up. Programmers will be restricted to 500MB of storage and enough CPU and network bandwidth to sustain around 5 million page views per month per application. Eventually, developers will be able to purchase additional storage and bandwidth.
Google engineers will demo the technology at Google I/O in May.