Saturday, March 14, 2020

Google App Engine's Missed Opportunity

I've been a fan of Google's App Engine (GAE) since its initial release in 2008 but it has never quite taken off despite the growth of running applications in the cloud and the rise of open source software.  It's really a missed opportunity for Google.

I have been running many small projects on GAE which is now part of Google Cloud's offerings.  GAE is friendlier to start with than other hosting options from Google in that it has a free tier which I suspect is sufficient for most users.  GAE auto-scales as traffic increases so there is a possibility that it could surpass the free quota but users can set a guidance on the max daily spend.  This has generally worked for me as I set the max to be $0.00 so that I don't go past the free quota.  Be aware that this is not a hard limit so there is a chance that it can go over the limit.  Recently, I got billed $0.01 requiring me to log in to Google Cloud and pay the amount due.  Since I had to log into the developer console, it gave me a chance to look at the projects that I've been running.  The majority were simple static websites which as simple as GAE is to use, it's easier to use something like Github pages.  Both offers SSL (HTTPS support) and custom domains so I decided to move my sites off of GAE.

This move got me thinking about the missed opportunity for Google with GAE.  It is not because GAE should be a static web hosting site since GAE is about running applications hosted in the cloud.  GAE offers a simple and complete solution that was perfect for users of open source projects. 

Just as Github Pages is a super simple solution to host static web pages, GAE started as a super simple solution for running cloud applications.  GAE is basically a server, database, memory cache, sign-in and storage solution all-in-one.  Users don't have to select and install each of these basic components themselves.  This meant that an open source project could be developed where the user can easily run it by putting it on GAE with the same simplicity of desktop projects (possibly even easier).  I imaged a world where someone can write a note taking app in App Engine and anyone who wants to use it get the source, put it on GAE and it's running and ready to use!   We see note taking programs all the time running on desktops and mobile because the author knows that if the user installs the binary they can start using the app, but for cloud apps it always involves a lot of infrastructure setup.  The reaction to this has been Docker containers which I find is still harder on the user and a lot more complex for the developer.

When GAE was first launched it confused developers who weren't used to this paradigm for web development and Google didn't do a very good job explaining or addressing some missing/problematic areas.  It seems like Google focused more on Enterprises to switch to this "Platform-As-A-Service" model when they have less need for such hand-holding.  I believe the missed opportunity is that they missed out that this was more ideal for the consumer market then the enterprise market.