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Comparing Amazon's and Google's Platform-
as-a-Service (PaaS) Offerings
By Dion Hinchcliffe | April 11, 2008, 1:34pm PDT

Summary

The announcement this week that Google released a beta version of a robust cloud computing
platform called Google App Engine that lets anyone build apps on Google’s renowned and
highly scalable infrastructure underscored a key trend in the software industry today. Namely
that software platforms are moving from their traditional centricity around individually owned
and managed computing resources and up into the “cloud” of the Internet.

Topics

Google Inc., Platform, PaaS, Amazon.com Inc., Dion Hinchcliffe

Blogger Info
Dion Hinchcliffe


         Bio
         Contact

Biography

Dion Hinchcliffe




Dion Hinchcliffe is founder and chief technology officer for the Enterprise Web 2.0 advisory and
consulting firm Hinchcliffe & Company, based in Alexandria, Virginia. A veteran of software
development, Dion has been working for two decades with leading-edge methods to accelerate
project schedules and raise the bar for software quality. He has extensive practical experience
with enterprise technologies and he consults, speaks, and writes prolifically on IT and software
architecture. Dion still works in the trenches with enterprise IT clients in the federal government
and Fortune 1000. He also speaks and publishes about Web 2.0 and SOA on a regular basis.
Dion is working on a book about Web 2.0 for Addison-Wesley and is currently editor-in-chief of
the Web 2.0 Journal and AjaxWorld Magazine.

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The announcement this week that Google released a beta version of a robust cloud computing
platform called Google App Engine that lets anyone build apps on Google’s renowned and
highly scalable infrastructure underscored a key trend in the software industry today. Namely
that software platforms are moving from their traditional centricity around individually owned
and managed computing resources and up into the “cloud” of the Internet.

Google’s entry into a space that has been largely dominated so far by Amazon and its Elastic
Compute Cloud — as well as a few smaller players like Bungee and Heroku — has turned the
Internet cloud computing space into a fully-fledged industry virtually overnight. What makes
these offerings so interesting is their promise to turn enormous amounts of operational
competency and accumulated economies of scale (which are enormous in Amazon’s and
Google’s cases) into a highly competitive new software platform, akin to Windows or Linux,
except entirely hosted off-premises and on the Internet.
          Figure 1: Amazon and Google both offer comprehensive PaaS solutions

In this way, instead of just offering applications over the Web in the form of Software-as-a-
Service (SaaS), Amazon and Google are actually offering an entire Platform-as-a-Service
because they provide the foundational upon which to build highly scalable and robust Web-based
applications in the same way that the traditional operating systems like Windows and Linux have
done in the past for software developers. But what’s very different about this model is that no
longer is the platform itself “sold” to the customer who then takes responsibility for running and
maintaining it. In this model, it’s the very operational capability of the platform hosting that is
the primary value here (and it’s how such platforms are typically billed). This has far reaching
implications to both the business models of PaaS vendors as well as their customers.

In the traditional world of software platforms, the cost of the first copy of the platform was
enormous, often requiring companies to invest hundreds of millions before they could offer the
platform to their very first customer. And while that’s still true with PaaS, now the economics of
these new online platforms extend to 24×365 operations, which of course, is the core
competency of the Web 2.0 era and. The potentially ruinous continuous expense of not only
providing the platform but providing all the computing resources (and facilities, power, and
bandwidth) upon which your customers run their apps changes the rules of the game. Whoever
can drive the most costs out of their supply chain while offering a rich, robust, and easy-to-use
platform is likely to rule the roost.
This takes us to the capabilities of these platforms, which are just now being fully fleshed out
and offered to the marketplace in a form that’s relatively complete (though we’ll see which
pieces are still missing in a minute.) What’s interesting is that Amazon and Google have
strategically built up an extensive set of services over the last few years and have made some
very interesting assumptions that will determine who their customers are (consumers, startups,
enterprises) and what type of business models can sit on top of them (advertising, subscriptions,
cheapest source of outsourced computing resources).

For its part, Amazon’s Web Services Division has continued to grow regularly with new
introductions on a regular basis with strategic components like SimpleDB to highly innovative
services like the Mechanical Turk. As for Google it has released a flurry of APIs and platform
tools as well over the last few years with notable examples such as their famed Google Maps
API, Google Base API, their little known but very intriguing Social Graph API, and now their
new Google App Engine infrastructure which forms the center of their PaaS offering. As for
enabling business models, Amazon has it’s eCommerce APIs to help its PaaS partners generate
revenue while Google has its far more flexible and general purpose advertising models with its
AdSense product line. In terms of capacity, Google currently has sharp limits on many of it Web
services while Amazon has been impressively open-ended about “sky-is-the-limit” capacity
ceilings. Finally, Amazon’s PaaS services are essentially a box of high quality pieces without
much integration, while the advent of Google App Engine provides some real glue that begins to
pull together an integrated platform solution for its customers.

Good for the startup community; but what about the enterprise?

The decision for many startups will be an easy one; the benefits of using these platforms for their
new products are compelling across the board despite minor concerns about platform lock-in
even though the models used by both companies are actually surprisingly lock-in free. Amazon’s
computing cloud runs the machine images you provide, essentially running the platform of your
choice while Google uses widely available and open sourced languages and frameworks like
Python and Django. The support services such as data storage and others could easily be
replicated via the interface/implementation separation if an application needed to be brought
back in-house. Google’s cloud is more elastic than Amazon’s while Amazon gives you a bit
more flexibility. Both PaaS platforms now have all the major pieces needed to be a relatively
complete cloud-based application platform, with the exception that Amazon has decided not to
offer PaaS client-side tools and has decided to let customers choose whatever they like. Google
provides this flexibility too but also provides many compelling client tooling options of its own
and it remains to be seen if ceding the client tooling entirely to its community will benefit or
hinder Amazon’s offerings long-term.

But the decision for enterprises on how far to leverage computing platforms in the cloud will be
much more complicated. The economics will increasingly make more sense to run business
applications on these new platforms now that major competition has emerged in the PaaS
marketplace that will put major downward pressure on already strikingly low costs to operate.
But the issues around governance, security, privacy, and control will be hard to overcome. Make
no mistake however, these platforms offer not only major cost savings but non-trivial
productivity boosts as they competitively strive to be the cheapest and lowest barrier place online
to run your business applications and engage your employees, customers, and partners.

Read an excellent technical overview of Google App Engine by O’Reilly’s Brady Forrest.

What’s fascinating is that Google and Amazon have emerged to be the leaders in this space while
Microsoft, IBM, and especially Oracle and SAP are either well behind or have unclear plans to
enter the PaaS space. Both of these companies formed their DNA around the world of the Web
and deeply understand how to leverage the enormous strengths of the Web platform. Some
analysts have recently declared that existing platforms such as Windows are collapsing under
their own weight as well as facing rapidly growing competition from Web apps, which some
have declared will have reached the 50% tipping point as early as 2011. It’s clear that the
software marketplace is changing rapidly but it’s very unclear which of these emerging platforms
will be a big hit with the enterprise. For now both of these platforms are primarily startup stories
in terms of their customer base and that may not be enough for PaaS players to carve out the
kinds of fast growth businesses we saw in the enterprise software industry for the last 20 years.
As ZDNet’s Phil Wainewright declares, “Let the PaaS wars begin.”

Also worth reading: Garett Rogers goes into the pros and cons of using Google App Engine.

Is your organization considering Amazon or Google to run your business applications? Please
respond in Talkback below.

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Dion Hinchcliffe has been working for two decades with leading-edge methods to accelerate

				
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