Wow am I happy now that I didn’t deploy serious apps on Google App Engine

September 13, 2011
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First released in 2008, Google App Engine (GAE or AppEngine) was Google’s first attempt to compete with Amazon Web Services in providing cloud computing platform services for developers. In earlier posts, I took some heat for concluding that Google App Engine was not ready for “serious” applications, even when it was “free”.

Recently, Google announced shocking new pricing for appengine that has its users reeling. In short, the new pricing means:

  • “Free” quotas have been drastically reduced
  • Pricing of paid apps increased significantly
  • SLA and operational support available for a premium

Google has provided a tool so customers can compare their current bills versus expected billis under the new pricing and customers report anywhere from 3x to 30x price increases, leaving many scrambling for alternatives.

Two of the most common complaints from customers are lack of notice and the uncertainty of the pricing (lack of control over costs).

In terms of cost control, the only way to know how much your costs are, is to ask Google, after you have already incurred those costs (and built and deployed your app). It’s impossible to map users or usage directly to cost. Google’s pricing scheme is as inscrutible as the worst telephone company billing.

The pricing was originally planned to take effect in September, which only gave customers a few weeks to react. Google has provided optimization guidelines for customers to try to reduce their costs, but given the short notice, customers simply do not have time to make major changes to their apps. Companies already had their development resources planned out. They aren’t sitting around waiting for Google to throw a wrench at them. And it’s not clear how much further optimization will really save you anyway since a lot of apps have already received cost-cutting optimizations.

To me, I think this goes a long way to confirm some of my concerns about Google as a cloud platform vendor and as an enterprise vendor in general. A lot of people think anything Google touches is golden (especially Google, just ask them), but I think this shows how they still just don’t get it when it comes to providing commercial grade services. I have asked before, regarding many Google products, whether Google was serious this time. This is the risk to me of doing any business with Google. All these other non-search products are simply “tests” for them. A few billion here, a few billion there, throw it out and see what sticks. The problem is, if you latch on to one of these products and then it becomes critical to your business, you just never know when Google might, on a whim, go in a different direction, hanging you out to dry.

And that appears to be how a lot of customers feel about this move by Google, such as expressed in this post on the mailing list:

App Engine is finished, here’s why

What has always been the biggest concern about App Engine? Lock-in. You’re at the mercy of Google. Sure there’s TyphoonAE etc… but really those are not alternatives.

What does Google go ahead and do? They do exactly what their critics said they would do and what us GAE adopters hoped like hell they would never do, screw us over.

App Engine is finished not because we’re all going to move off to EC2, but because people who are considering using App Engine will see exactly what has gone on here with the pricing, think about the lock-in argument against GAE, and decide not to use GAE. There will be a drop off in new apps, and eventually Google is going to see GAE isn’t really panning out and pull the 3 year plug.

Thankfully, I don’t operate any services on GAE with high costs, but even as it is, I feel ripped-off for my investment in AppEngine. I do run some services on it, some of which I would rather not have to shut down, so I might have to move those elsewhere. And there are some apps I will simply shut down because they are not worth the trouble to port elsewhere. Some of those apps were potentially interesting and gathering users – in that sense, I’m glad this move by Google is happening now, before these apps got big enough to have to now decide what to do with them.

What’s worse for me though, is simply all the time invested in learning AppEngine. What a waste of time that appears to have been. As one developer says:

The biggest complaint is that when my friends and peers objected to App Engine, its strange requirements and its potential lock in, they were right and I am a fucking naive idiot. And I really don’t like to be proven a naive idiot. I put my faith in Google’s engineers and they have utterly destroyed my credibility. THIS more than anything is the cost to me.

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