Web developers will soon be able to host their applications on Google's infrastructure for free — up to a point.
Reports emerged last week that Google was to launch a service around cloud computing which made use of its Bigtable infrastructure, already used by Google Analytics, Google Earth and social networking networking platform Orkut.
The service, announced today, will go under the name of Google Apps Engine and is being released in typical Google fashion — as a preview. The first 10,000 developers that sign up to the service will get a quota of 500MB of storage as well as enough computing power and bandwidth to handle five million page views per month, for free.
"It's free and will continue to be free for the initial quota that we offer," Google Australia software engineer, Peter McKenzie, told ZDNet.com.au.
The system allows developers to use Google's infrastructure, meaning new apps on the search engine's network will be able to handle spikes in traffic that may have once forced companies to redesign their database architectures.
"This will help developers deal with things like replication and load balancing so they can concentrate on their apps themselves," said McKenzie.
"You get easier access to other Google services and APIs, so a few [benefits] that stand out are user or account authentication, and also e-mail APIs as well."
Google will not claim ownership of the applications either, said McKenzie.
"What's in it for Google is that it drives usage of the Web as a platform and gives us more compelling sites to have on our search result pages."
As for the 10,000 developers who take up this free offer, Google is hoping it receives feedback to determine the future direction of the platform.
What do developers think?
Developers have welcomed Google's announcement, but remain cautious due to the lack of standards and interoperability between various platforms.
"Companies like Google and Amazon have a tonne of bandwidth that they can load share really well. As a developer, when you launch something, you might get a big hit on it, so you really want a system that can provide the bandwidth when you need it," John Allsopp, managing director of Web development company Western Civilisation, told ZDNet.com.au.
Managing director of fellow Web development company Internet Visions Technology, Jonathon Oxer, told ZDNet.com.au the service is good news for startups.
"It will allow small startups with big ideas to create applications that can scale up very rapidly and minimise upfront costs when developing new concepts," he said.
However both Allsop and Oxer raised concerns that developers could find their applications locked into the infrastructure provider's platform due to a lack of standardisation and interoperability.
"The danger that I see is lack of standardisation at this stage, as we are starting to see multiple platforms emerge, such as Amazon and Google, with the result that when an application is developed to run on that platform, the developer becomes locked into that provider," said Oxer.
"At this point it's too early for standards to emerge ... but we will need to watch in the future how this marketplace matures in terms of providing interoperability between computing in the cloud platforms."
Western Civilisation's Allsop said technology won't be the problem in the future, but rather if the platform provider in five years time decides it no longer wishes to host applications, moving to a new provider poses a major obstacle.
"Imagine taking an app like Google Docs and shifting that to Amazon," said Allsop.