A month ago, I wrote about the plethora of PaaS options available from the cloud, setting out a five-layer model to categorize them. With last night's announcement of Google App Engine, it's all stepped up a notch. People are already talking about when Microsoft will bring out its own PaaS offering, while most of the blog chatter is about Google App Engine going head-to-head with Amazon Web Services.
With so much noise it's going to be more difficult for the smaller start-ups also playing in the space to get heard, such as Coghead and Bungee Labs [disclosure: for whom I just recorded a podcast] but it also validates what they're doing. Certainly it's going to be a while before Google's platform gets traction — the current release is restricted to Python, a language few developers use, and all the first wave of accounts have already gone.
As to where it fits, it's closer to a cloud IDE than Amazon's raw computing components. But it doesn't have as much support for developers as more mature offerings such as Force.com and Bungee Labs. It has some aspects of a cloud application builder, especially with features like access to email services. So it's a relatively primitive offering, but of huge import because of who has brought it to market. And because it's Google, a lot of developers will want to use it — so we can expect to see a lot of creativity and probably some interesting success stories. The big guns are here. Let the PaaS wars begin.