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Google hopes to house Web software on App Engine

Google opens up App Engine in a bid to lure Web site developers to Google's infrastructure. Does the company have grander ambitions?

Google plans to launch a service called App Engine Monday evening that the company hopes will attract programmers and eventually companies needing an expandable foundation for online applications.

App Engine, free to the first 10,000 people who sign up, offers a combination of several online Google services for those who want a place to host software, said Pete Koomen, a product manager on the Google developer team. Those include the BigTable service for data storage and processing--as expected--along with authentication to let people sign on to services and e-mail to let the system handle communications, he said.

At an event called Campfire One Monday night, Google plans to show off some internally developed Web applications written with the service. One of them lets people sign up for carpools, joining the service, declaring whether and when they want to drive or be driven, and then being matched to likely partners.

The company is pitching App Engine as an easy way for programmers to build software without having to worry about rebuilding it once it gets too big for its original hardware or software britches.

"We've seen cases where developers have had to rearchitect systems every six to nine months because of the load of increasing traffic," Koomen said. Using Google's App Engine sidesteps those issues by distributing software across Google's own servers, automatically handling larger-scale use, he said.

It looks to me like the move could put some competitive pressure on other online services such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and's AppExchange.

But Stephen Arnold, author of "Google Version 2," sees grander ambitions in the App Engine plan. Google's BigTable software and accompanying Sawzall technology for analyzing huge quantities of data offers big companies a way to tackle data-mining tasks they currently can't manage, such as American Express plumbing five years' worth of credit-card transactions to determine the merits of Father's Day promotions.

"This is a real zinger for the banks and credit-card agencies," he said.

App Engine programs can be written in the Python programming language, Koomen said, though Google is seeking advice on what other languages to support. With App Engine, programmers can use a Google software development kit to write the software on their own computer, then upload it to App Engine when desired.

Google's App Engine initially will have limits of 500MB of storage, 10GB of daily data transfer bandwidth, and 200 million daily cycles of processor use. That should be enough to power a Web site with about 5 million page views per month, Koomen said.

After the preview period ends, all comers will be able to use that amount of capacity for free, and using more will cost pay-as-you-go fees that Google isn't yet announcing.

Google expects to generate some revenue from the service and from AdSense if developers incorporate that service into their Web applications, said Tom Stocky, another Google product manager. But the real payback from the service is indirect, Koomen said.

"The primary motivation is to enable the Web as a platform and move it forward," Koomen said. "If it's easier for developers to build Web applications, (that) means more applications. That attracts more users to the Web and helps Google as well."

Future features will include mechanisms for storing files larger than 1MB, billing users for computer use, and support for offline applications, Koomen added.

Google engineers also will discuss the site at the Google I/O developer conference in May.

Update 8:15 a.m. PDT March 8: All the early spots appear to be taken, but you can sign up for the waiting list at Google's Web site. Some more links for the project include a thorough overall App Engine description; source code for the project, under the open-source Apache 2.0 license, available for download; a gallery of applications; and Google's App Engine blog. Also, I removed a potentially erroneous reference to a the database in Amazon's EC2 service; Amazon hasn't described what its SimpleDB service uses.