Google is offering web developers a slice of its own infrastructure by announcing the preview release of the Google App Engine platform, which provides access to the same database building blocks used by the search specialist.
In a bid to make web development easier and more scalable, the company says the Google App Engine allows access to the power of the company's own Bigtable compressed database and the Google File System. Free to the first 10,000 developers to sign up, this new web-hosting platform will share resources in the same way as Google Analytics, Google Earth and social-networking platform Orkut.
Developers using 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. Google says this launch represents a fully-integrated application environment that will help deal with tasks such as replication and load balancing. It also provides access to other Google services and APIs to improve user or account authentication, although the search engine has confirmed it will not claim ownership of the applications once built.
In his staff blog, Google App Engine technical lead Kevin Gibbs said: "Google App Engine is free to use during the preview release, but the amount of computing resources any application can use is limited. In the future, developers will be able to purchase additional computing resources as needed, but Google App Engine will always be free to get started. We've got a lot left to do and there are a lot of features we still want to add to the system. What we'd really like is to get [your] feedback on it."
While Google is keen to drive the wider usage of the internet as an application platform, opinions from the web-development community itself appear to suggest a note of caution before moving forward into this area of so-called cloud computing that has been accused of suffering from a lack of standards.
"Google App Engine provides a fantastic opportunity for individual developers and small web-development companies. It will help them to build fairly straightforward web applications that tie into Google's API and to deploy them to an infrastructure that will scale on an 'as needed' basis," said Niklas Richardson, technical director of independent web developers Monochrome Ltd. "However, as good as this may all sound, web developers are somewhat restricted by the APIs and the sandbox that Google provides. This means they will never be able to make use of all the tools that a language such as Python, PHP or ColdFusion may provide."
In response to these challenges, a Google UK spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk: "Your application code and data are yours and you can download your data from Google App Engine at any time. In order to run an application somewhere else, you'll need to rewrite parts of it, particularly the elements that access our datastore. However our model implementation is similar enough to popular Python frameworks such as Django that this should not be difficult."
Google stresses that this is very much a preview release, and it will be taking user feedback into consideration as it makes future decisions affecting web development. The company says its attention now is focused on adding more languages, support for offline processing and the ability to purchase more storage and bandwidth.
ZDNet.com.au's Liam Tung contributed to this report.