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Google’s App Engine: Aiming At Facebook, Not Amazon

There’s no shortage of stories about Google’s newly launched App Engine, but almost all of them get it wrong — because they compare the new service to Amazon’s EC2 and S3 services (AMZN).

If the Silicon Valley echo chamber wants to make up a competitor for AppEngine, its proper correlate (by a whisker) is Facebook’s F8 platform. If you must cram this new service into a pigeon hole, think of App Engine as the Facebook Platform for the grown-up web.

Why isn’t App Engine like EC2 & S3? Constraints, constraints, constraints:

* Google is going the run-time environment route, not the scalable, “put anything you want in a box and we’ll scale it” route that EC2 provides. Case in point: We could run the BricaBox Platform on EC2 by tailoring our own environment (the LAMP stack) and booting it up on Amazon’s servers. We could not get BricaBox running on AppEngine without re-writing in Python, ditching functionality which needed outside libraries or languages, or relational databases.

*Google is not trying to provide pure utility here — they are trying to provide utility tethered to their infrastructure. While EC2’s initial investor pitch was “we have this scale and want to monetize unused portions of it,” many smart people called them out for what they were really doing: creating a new business based on the concept of utility computing, which had nothing at all to do with their core infrastructure at Amazon.com (i.e. they weren’t using EC2 or S3 for their needs).

*Google is clearly looking to have as many of these apps tie into existing pieces of Google’s infrastructure: everything from the authentication systems (Google Accounts only!) to code libraries (most open source or API accessible code from Google is written in Python and ready to run in their environment) is based around this infrastructure and will be based around this going forward.

So, why is App Engine more like the Facebook Platform 3.0?

* App Engine is designed for lightweight apps.

* App Engine apps are wrapped around Google’s existing userbase and communication infrastructure (Gmail), creating a more organic Social Ecosystem for Google.

* App Engine is way more interoperable with the rest of the web than Facebook apps, though still built around a proprietary stack.

* The first App Engine apps will be huge! The next ones will have just as much trouble emerging from the murky waters of the web as any other apps.