Google's Aging Tech Raises Questions About Relying on Google App Engine

An ex-Google employee recently expressed concerns about the antiquity of Google's software infrastructure. This is the same software infrastructure underpinning Google App Engine, and as Google prepares an enterprise-class version of Google App Engine, it's important to understand what's under the hood.

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Engineer claims Google's software infrastructure is obsolete

In a blog post, former Google Wave engineer Dhanji R. Prasanna explains why he's leaving Google:

Here is something you've may have heard but never quite believed before: Google's vaunted scalable software infrastructure is obsolete. Don't get me wrong, its hardware and datacenters are the best in the world, and as far as I know, nobody is close to matching it. But the software stack on top of it is 10 years old, aging, and designed for building search engines and crawlers. And it is well and truly obsolete.

Protocol Buffers, BigTable, and MapReduce are ancient, creaking dinosaurs compared to MessagePack, JSON, and Hadoop. And new projects like GWT, Closure, and MegaStore are sluggish, overengineered Leviathans compared to fast, elegant tools like jQuery and MongoDB. Designed by engineers in a vacuum, rather than by developers who have need of tools.

Prasanna argues that Google's software infrastructure hasn't kept up with alternatives developed in an open community forum.

Don't take Prasanna's statements as those of a disgruntled ex-employee. He writes that working for Google was the "best job I've ever had, by a long way." Additionally, Prasanna had built up serious technical credibility, both within and outside of Google, especially in the Java arena.

As interesting as Prasanna's comments may be, Google software infrastructure has little impact on your enterprise, right? Correct, unless you're considering Google App Engine.

Google's software infrastructure bleeds through Google App Engine

Google isn't going to open-source its back-end software infrastructure. However, as the Register's Cade Metz writes, Google's software infrastructure is surfaced for enterprise usage through Google's App Engine.

Google App Engine product manager Sean Lynch, who has since left the company, explains how Google exposes its internal software infrastructure to third-party developers and enterprises:

We decided we could take a lot of this infrastructure and expose it in a way that would let third-party developers use it -- leverage the knowledge and techniques we have built up -- to basically simplify the entire process of building their own Web apps: building them, managing them once they're up there, and scaling them once they take off.

Make no mistake, Google App Engine is a success, with more than 100,000 developers accessing the online console each month and serving up 1.5 billion page views a day, according to Metz's story. However, keep in mind the difference between success with developers and success with enterprises.

Lynch states that Google App Engine is a long-term business focused on the enterprise space. Later this year, Google App Engine expects to exit a three-year beta period and introduce enterprise-class service-level agreements.

Google App Engine started as a way to expose Google's vaunted, to use Prasanna's description, software infrastructure to third-party developers. But it appears that the market has moved faster than Google's internal audience demanded.

Enterprises seek vendors whose core business is linked to the software platform they're selling

Part of this gap between Google and outside technologies is driven by the fact that offering a cloud platform as a service is not core to Google's business. This is why I've argued that commercial software vendors have little to fear from vendors that produce software primarily for their own use and then opt to secondarily open-source the code. Unless and until the open-sourced code is picked up by one or more vendors whose core business is tied to the project, enterprises will shy away from adopting it.

Consider where Hadoop, first developed and open-sourced by Yahoo, would be if not for Cloudera and other vendors whose core business is linked to the enterprise success of Hadoop.

In the case of Google App Engine, a key question to ask is how your enterprise needs will be prioritized against the needs of internal Google developers.

Although both user groups will share a set of feature requests, there are undoubtedly features that enterprises will seek but Google developers will not need. With both user groups vying for the next feature on their wish list to be completed, will Google address the needs of its internal developers or of outside enterprises? Keep in mind that revenue from projects that internal developers are working on will far outweigh revenue from outside enterprises through Google App Engine for the foreseeable future.

According to Prasanna, developers and enterprises can get more innovative, state-of-the-art, and high-performance software infrastructure from open source projects that have replicated some of Google's best ideas, like Hadoop and MongoDB, than by using Google's software infrastructure itself. Combining individual best-of-breed software building blocks into a cloud platform as a service environment that offers the functionality of Google App Engine requires enterprises to do a lot more work than simply using Google App Engine.

Another alternative is to consider a vendor whose business is tied to the success, or failure, of the cloud platform as a service offering. For example, Salesforce.com, EMC VMware, Red Hat, Microsoft, and IBM (to name a few vendors) offer environments designed and built for third-party enterprise use.

Keep these considerations in mind while evaluating Google App Engine -- or any cloud platform-as-a-service offering for enterprise use.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "Google's aging tech raises questions about relying on Google App Engine," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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