The problem with Google Apps Engine

The problem with Google Apps Engine

Summary: If you are considering taking advantage of the new Google App Engine service from Google, I suggest you read this article first. There are some hidden facts that you should be aware of before making your decision to adopt this platform.


If you are considering taking advantage of the new Google App Engine service from Google, I suggest you read this article first. There are some hidden facts that you should be aware of before making your decision to adopt this platform.

First, I'd like to thank Google for providing this service -- it really is a great idea, and can be very useful for people or companies making web applications from scratch without needing to worry about infrastructure. It's also a very smart move on Google's part -- host the world's applications, make money off their success, even if they aren't the owners of successful applications. Popular applications will likely exceed "free" limits, giving Google the green light to start charging money.

Another advantage for Google is the ease of acquiring companies if they are already using Google's infrastructure -- simply make a deposit into their bank account and slap the Google logo on the interface.

But everything that sounds too good to be true, usually is -- right? In this case, I have to agree. When you choose to use Google App Engine, there are a couple of things you need to think long and hard about. If you go through this list and still think it will work for you, then it probably will. Go for it, it really is a great service after everything is said and done. It's very well thought out, and as it promises, it will scale with the growth of your business.

Things you need to think about:

  • You are putting your application in Google's hands Think about that for a minute. You are at the mercy of Google -- if disaster strikes and Google one day disappears, you are done too. Or, more realistically, if the Google App Engine goes down for an hour, you are also down for an hour -- and you will have no idea what happened. Even if you try and get an answer from someone at Google, you won't. Just like Google Apps, it will be impossible to explain things to your end users.

    What if you are violating some terms of service (which likely won't, but theoretically could happen to people without their knowing)? You thought making your company's revenue dependent on AdSense was risky -- what if your whole application was banned because of something you didn't know about? Like I said, this scenario isn't likely to happen -- but it's true that it could.

  • Once you are in, you are really in Using Google's infrastructure is very tempting. But any smart company should have some sort of plan for the future. What if you realized that you didn't want to host your application on Google App Engine anymore? Good luck, almost everything you are given access to is proprietary -- that means all your data is locked into BigTable in a format that isn't like a traditional relational database. It's also very tempting to use the API's Google provides to interface with things like Google accounts.

    On top of that, you will be using the "webapp" framework that Google built that makes writing Python applications real nice -- but good luck porting that to another language or putting it on a machine of your own.

  • It's free right? Not only are you locked in, you are completely at the mercy of Google's future pricing strategy for the Google App Engine. It's true that it's likely to be cheaper than anything else comparable, but are you willing to take that risk? Right now it's free, so everyone and their dog wants to at least give it a try -- but what if your application actually really takes off? You will one day have to pay for your success, or shut down your service.
  • Privacy should not be taken lightly Google has a very strong privacy policy -- and personally I trust them. However, I'm trusting them with my personal information -- you will be trusting them with all of your company's data. These are two completely different things. If you have a low trust tolerance, you may not want to risk putting everything that belongs to your company behind Google's doors. That said, I personally would still feel comfortable putting company data on their infrastructure -- simply because I know it's proven to be secure, scalable and robust over the last several years with their own services.

Like I said, I am really glad Google has put this service out there. It's a great tool people can and should use if they are comfortable with the risks. If you have any additional things you would like to point out for people who might be considering using Google App Engine, or if you want to debunk anything I have said in this article, please feel free to post them in the Talk Back.

Topics: Data Management, Apps, CXO, Data Centers, Enterprise Software, Google, Security, Software

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  • "You are putting your application in Google?s hands"

    Google has yet to abuse its customers, yet MS has been doing this for years. Stifling innovation and always putting marketing noise well above doing anything creative.

    You are comfortable putting your computing future in Microsoft?s hands?
    • Are you for real?

      You fr0th at the mouth about Microsoft all the time, yet you gloss over the obvious in the article. .

      Have you ever seen the Google behind the web page? Have they confided in you on what happens to your data when you can not see it anymore?

      At least with Microsoft, the data is allways in your control.

      I am starting to think you are related to DonnieBoy...
      • Yeah I'm for real

        Google aren't desperately trying to keep hold of YOUR computer. They're offering software as a service, not forcing their way into your computers. Big difference in mind set there.

        MS is piling on the anti-Google do you trust them stuff to slow down the rate of market loss until they can get something working. MS's biggest problem is they have a long history of abuse, and have taken business tactics lower than many thought they could go.

        The question is not "Do you trust Google", it is more "Why would anyone continue to use Microsoft" ...

        I think you're related to No_Ax and Loverock ;-)
        • LOOK EVERYONE!#*($@! HE MENTIONS ME!@#*@)(#

          Again! This guy is so in love with me he responds to every one of my posts and even talks about me when I don't post :) <3
          Loverock Davidson
        • You're a dork

          You say "Google aren't desperately trying to keep hold of YOUR computer."

 least with Microsoft you HAVE a computer. You decide what goes on it...Micrososft software or not. You decide what happens to your data. With Google there's one choice: put it on GOOGLE'S computer.
        • But who owns your data?

          The greatest barrier to people moving away from MS Office is the data format, MS effectively owns your data. Why jump from the frying pan into the fire?

          At least with Google, we have the benefit of prior experience to know not to trust a major company with a closed format with our data because the moment you do that it's not your data, it's theirs and you're 100% at their mercy.
          • Ignorance indeed

            To confuse format with owning the data is bad enough, but my data is my data and if you could imagine a Save As drop down in your non MS universe, then you'd realise I can save my Office data in whatever format I like. However, since I'm using the most sophisticated and professional office system on thw planet, why am I going to need to change?

            You also missed the proprietary part in Google, their APIs are their own and not yours.

            Seriously do you actually know what data is? I have no trouble moving my data to a variety of different systems - code on the other hand is hard and trusting my code and hard work to another Google beta is fine for the dilettante and hobbyist but is extremely brave (stupid) for companies.
          • I'll take oversimplifying the problem for 10 please.

            If it were that simple, no-one would bother wasting any time reverse-engineering the Office file formats, including all the macros.

            Here's a tip; a Word document is not just words, it's layout and often embedded content (Excel spreadsheet data, PowerPoint slides etc.) as well as macros if you're using it in a business context.

            So, unless you can tell me exactly which Save As option will export all that without a hitch, I think you need to get lost.

            [b]I have no trouble moving my data to a variety of different systems[/b]

            Evidently your data is uncomplex enough to be captured in .rtf, probably without frames or even a basic Table of Contents. I can only imagine that a) you've spent way too much money on software that you don't need for your extremely basic needs and b) you've never actually tried exporting Office files to anything else.

            It's like thinking that exporting something from SolidWorks as a .dxf is going to retain all the information that the native file has.

            [b]Seriously do you actually know what data is?[/b]

            Apparently much better than you.
          • Ummm...Not

            Sorry, but you don't get it all. Your argument rests on the idea that BigTable is not a proprietary format. It is and you make the same sacrifice no matter what app infrastructure you go with. It is just FUD and a straw man argument. The question is not about Office format anyway. An app infrastructre stores structured data that is designed for the application. Line of business apps do not store data in Office formats. At leats with Oracle or SQL Server, I have a variety of DB interfaces to recover and export data. BigTable provides very few options and the data is never under your control.

            Frankly, your argument only make sense if you apply them to Google.
          • Either I've not explained my argument properly,

            or you think I'm someone else.

            Here's my original point:

            [b]"At least with Google, we have the benefit of prior experience to know not to trust a major company with a closed format with our data because the moment you do that it's not your data, it's theirs and you're 100% at their mercy."[/b]

            MS Office was just a frame of reference. Not my fault someone tried to make like page layout or macros weren't important data. If you could claim that a plain-text copy and paste were sufficient to get data away from Office, I'm sure the same argument could be applied to BigTable.

            So like I said before, at least with Google, we're more aware of what happens when you entrust your data to a proprietary format, so maybe some of us will avoid that trap.
    • frOthy2

      This article is not about MS, yet you still have to get in your anti-MS sentiments. I wonder if you can supply any useful input on any subject without spewing your religion.
      • See above post

      • The answer to your question is no.

        His religion demands it of him. Sort of like the holy rollers that knock on your door offering salvation as long as you adopt thier religion. sigh...
      • Well, w/the M$ Bigots spewing THEIR Religion

        think of it as "balance" just like MicroShaft's favorite Faux Noize, Beck!
    • Fr0thy, Just B/c Google Hasn't Seriously Abused Their Customers' Trust YET

      doesn't mean they won't EVER. After all, they already knuckled under to China's insistence on access to "dissident accounts" in order to get their search engine in China - which makes it hard for me to trust their "We're not Evil" mantra entirely. Also, whatever other bad things you can say about M$ (and they are legion), at least your Office documents mainly live on your hard drive rather than "in the cloud" - and that alone makes me nervous about Goggle Docs.
  • RE: The problem with Google Apps Engine

    I wouldn't get too comfortable that Google can do you no wrong. <a href="">I wrote about this earlier</a>, but its clear that there is no option but Google once you opt in...and there is not guarantee that they aren't above using that to exploit revenue opportunities. (Perhaps auctioning off available capacity to the highest bidder, for instance, ala AdWords?)

    Also, they have been known to <a href="">push the boundaries with employees</a> from time to time.
  • RE: The problem with Google Apps Engine

    > Once you are in, you are really in

    Download the SDK, and you get your own copy of the webapp framework, it all appears to be Apache Licenced.

    I admit no python expert, but it seems to me with the SDK you could setup a hosting enviroment for you app that runs elsewhere. Sure you wouldnt have Googles Infeststructure in particular BigTable, but the SDK emulates it using files, sure that adaptor could be made to work with a different backend, something like couchDB.

    So it would be a bit of work to get going, but I dont see any reason why other hosting providers couldnt setup 'App Engine compatible' hosting.
  • RE: The problem with Google Apps Engine

    The framework(s) for the Google App Engine are open source.

    In any case, think of it this way. You always have the two options... host with a hosting provider, or setup your own servers and host it yourself. Either way, you are putting your livelihood in the hands of another company. If you use a hosting provider, and they vanish or go down, you're stuck. If you manage things yourself and use a co-location provider, you are at their mercy. If you are hosting your own stuff in your own building, you are at the mercy of whichever company provides your T1/T3 line(s).

    Sure, hosting with Google puts even MORE control in the hands of a provider (i.e., the connection AND the servers AND the configuration AND the electricity, etc...) However, by not doing so would also mean you would be spending more money and time (time=money).

    I trust Google to be my co-location facility. I also trust Google to know what they are doing with machines. I also trust that Google isn't going to vanish overnight. (By the way, I once dealt with a co-location company that was in my local area... they went bankrupt almost instantly and their site was going to be shut down, all without notification to their customers. It was only by chance that we discovered this and were able to retrieve our servers from their facility. It was also by chance that we were already building a hosting solution in-house and were just about ready for it all. If neither of these lucky scenarios had been the case, we would have been screwed.)

    Google, on the other hand, has many centers throughout the world... and hosted sites are replicated through this vast network. I doubt I am going to find a "sorry, we went bankrupt" notice on Google's front door one way without hearing about it anywhere else ahead of time.

    Finally, Google has already talked about supporting PHP and a number of other more common languages. So, perhaps with a little bit of patience, it will seem more worth it.

    FYI, some people make a living building new popular sites for the sole purpose of being acquired. For many, getting acquired by Google is the best outcome. So, if hosting on their servers in programming languages that they prefer would make a start-up a more likely target for acquisition by Google, then this is a great thing.
    • Can you BACK-UP Google Apps Engine?

      This seems to be a consideration. It does not seem so.

      Don't get me wrong. Cloud-computing is here to stay and I welcome it and look forward to working in it.

      That said, current development platforms use a sandbox approach: the entire code base and dB backend reside on your own box, and you replicate it to production. Without having inspected the Apps Engine myself, I speak in ignorance. However, from what I've read, there is no way to replicate the datastore on your own development environment, is there? Without being able to pick up your entire code base and database content and move it to any other environment, Google owns you. The same is not true in non-cloud configurations.
  • Don't trust Google

    Information is Power. Power corrupts. Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.

    Google is building the biggest database about more people than any organisation in the world. You may think they are "good" now. But, I would never trust anyone or any organisation with that much information.