Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What Google App Engine is NOT

Simon Wardley wrote a post discussing the Google App Engine announcement as a "first step" for them in the "the web as an operating system space". Simon is right, but as I commented on the post:

As I just noted on my blog, perhaps it is critical to look at this from the perspective of web businesses, rather than from enterprise IT's perspective. From the former angle, this is disruptive and revolutionary; from the latter, its a no-op at this point, except perhaps for externally facing web apps.
Simon then wrote an interesting post in response, describing the opportunity that Google has created by open sourcing the App Engine SDK. His core premises can be summed up in the following quote:
Now, whilst Google hasn't provided their environment as open sourced, it has provided an open sourced SDK that "emulates all of the App Engine services on your local computer". This appears, though I'm not a python expert, to contain all the primitives and information needed to build a compatible environment to GoogleAppEngine. This allows for companies, vendors and ISPs to create competing but compatible systems. It's almost as if Google has offered a blueprint for a web operating environment and asked the rest of the community to come compete with them.
And here I have to say, "Well, true, as far as web application hosting goes. But we all know the enterprise is WAY more than that." I think if a commercial product came out that allowed anyone to build a high-scale web environment, with data storage, development tools and operations interfaces within their own infrastructure, that would be very cool. But, as someone who really understands the utility computing space, I want everyone to be clear that this wouldn't help scalability or optimizing resource usage in the following key IT areas:
  1. Portal Services - Yes, an archaic concept to some, but still a critical strategy for delivering work functionality and key information to most knowledge workers. Note that Google does not provide portal support, nor support ANY standard portal interfaces, though you may be able to hack that in Python.

  2. SOA architectures - While it is theoretically possible to build a REST service in App Engine, there is no mechanism to host any other form of services. Yes, you could theoretically leverage services external to the Python app, but this would probably require services and GUI to be located in the same network, to avoid latency issues. Not to mention the fact that there is nothing resembling a messaging infrastructure, or Enterprise Service Bus.

  3. Business Process Automation - This is one of key tactics for gaining business agility, in my opinion, and while I wouldn't doubt someone will write an app to do BPA/I in App Engine, it will be expensive from a resource usage perspective (lots of in/out traffic, storage for quiesced processes and so on).

  4. EAI - Enterprise integration is still the most customized element of IT today, and, as noted in the last two points, there is nothing provided by Google at this point to help with data or application level integration; no data transformation (ala Informatica), no messaging engine, no business process automation, etc., etc., etc.

  5. HPC - Yes, Google is amazingly scalable, but they went out of their way to insist that App Engine is not a grid. It is not designed to--nor do you have the quota to allow you to--send arbitrary compute intensive jobs to the engine for processing.

  6. Server and desktop virtualization - No one does desktop in the cloud today, as far as I know, but Google doesn't even provide virtual servers--useful for hosting and maintenance of legacy applications, if nothing else. I suppose you could run out and convert your productivity apps to Google Apps, your email to GMail, etc., but what about print services?
Not to mention the fact that Google provides no service level guarantees (though I think they will probably do something here when they go GA), no premium support, no integration services, no live customer support (that I know of); in other words, there is a distinct lack of a "throat to choke" here.

Thus, I think most enterprises need to look at Amazon and Google services as just that--services that can be leveraged within their own architectures when it makes sense, rather than wonder-tools that can replace their entire IT infrastructure expenditure. Again, there is probably more bang for the buck today in converting that existing infrastructure into a utility, unless your data center hosts only web-facing applications...but then there is the expense of rewriting them entirely in Python, which may cancel out a tremendous amount of the cost benefits of using App Engine.

So, Simon, I share your excitement about the future of scalable web applications, but my point remains--this is largely a no-op for most enterprise IT organizations.

5 comments:

swardley said...

Hi James,

You're comparing a first step and saying it's not the same as the fifth step ... of course it isn't .... it's the first step.

If a competitive utility market forms around standards, then those standards will grow.

This reminds of the days when I listened to companies and people tell me why in 1995 the internet wasn't for business or in 1996 why no-one would use the internet for share trading or in 1997 why real businesses wouldn't use open source or in 2002 why you couldn't run a company from a wiki. They were all "correct" at their time, however you always need to look forward at the potential beyond the first step, to see what can happen.

So could you run an enterprise environment, of which I have fifteen years experience of building, on GoogleAppEngine today? Of course not. No-one says you can.

How about in the future? With a competitive utility computing market we can do a lot more than just leverage Google / Amazon with our architectures. Of course that'll upset some people's business models - they'll just have to adapt.

That's creative destruction for you.

James Urquhart said...

So you agree that today, as it stands now, as a first step, Google App Engine is largely a no-op for enterprise IT? It may become more relevant in the future, but its not going to be of limited use now?

If so, then we are on the same page.

James Urquhart said...

Sorry..."not going to be of limited use now" should be "going to be of limited use now".

swardley said...

James,

You're making an argument where none exists. No-one is arguing for running enterprise IT on GoogleAppEngine today. It's a first step.

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