Google Engine: Competitor or knock-off?

Call it a clash of competing clouds. It seems that Google is launching an application-hosting service that appears to be going head-to-head with Amazon’s trio of distributed computing services — the EC2 computing network, the S3 storage service and the SimpleDB database offering, all of which provide a kind of back-end in a box for companies that want to scale quickly. So is Google’s “App Engine,” which the company described at one of its invitation-only campfire events on Monday night, a real competitor for Amazon, or just a me-too knock-off?

Aaron Brazell of Technosailor — former technology guru for b5media — says the Google announcement is “much to do about nothing.” Among other things, Aaron says that Python, the only programming language that Google’s service currently supports, is not trivial to learn or to implement (several commenters on the TechCrunch post also seemed to think that restricting it to Python was a big negative as well). Aaron’s other beef with Google’s initiative is that it seems like an “Amazon S3 me-too” kind of product. “There is no innovation here,” he says.

To be fair, however, at least some of what Aaron is skeptical about — including privacy concerns, and the wisdom of hosting applications on remote systems run by some other company — arguably apply to both Amazon’s and Google’s suite of services. To me, the bigger question is whether companies will be drawn to Google as a host for their distributed services over someone like Amazon. I think they might. And if the Python limitation is only temporary (as Google suggested it is) then that could open up the doors even further for developers. Brady Forrest of O’Reilly says that he likes the approach Google is taking.

So now we’ve got the Google File System going up against S3, and BigTable going up against SimpleDB, and EC2 going up against Google’s server stack (no cool name for that, apparently). Is this the Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight of the tech world? Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy? Or is it Paris Hilton vs. Nicole Ritchie? Update: SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill (whose service uses Amazon S3 a lot) has a take on Google’s App Engine — he sees it as interesting, but not much of a competitor — and he’s also worried about lock-in.

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