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Is Google App Engine successful?

With all the cloud hype today, it's surprising that Google App Engine gets so little press. Yet there are signs that it is a healthy platform. So it seems fair to ask: "Is App Engine successful?"

The original title of this post was going to be "Why isn't Google App Engine successful?" You see, I've been frustrated of late at the lack of followup press about the PaaS offering since Google's announcement about it last April. I was beginning to think that no one but a few Facebook application providers were using it, which makes it kind of irrelevant for the enterprise.

Compare Google's coverage to that of Amazon Web Services. Since its announcement in July 2002, the various services contained under the AWS umbrella have received a steady stream of press and accolades. Much of that is due to marketing (and the phenomenal technology evangelism program Amazon put into place), but part of it is also that successful start-ups are passing on their own success stories independent of Amazon.

Two quick examples of this are SmugMug and Animoto. Both are stories that were originally broadcast by the customers themselves, and then evangalized by Amazon. Almost everyone in the "cloud-o-sphere" knows about these guys as a result. In fact, Animoto's story is the most prevalent case study of the value of elasticity in Web applications today.

So, where is the Google equivalent? I've heard about a few Facebook widgets being developed on App Engine (and that is sort of cool), but I certainly haven't heard any other type of start-up trumpet the importance of App Engine to their success. Furthermore, there are zero examples of non-Web businesses using App Engine to change the nature of their IT processes. (See Eli Lilly's story for an AWS counterpoint.)

So, all of this might lead you to believe I'm anti-App Engine, or at least not confident that it is important except as a PaaS example. And until yesterday, you would be right. However, I spent the day yesterday at the Cloud Connect conference, hosted at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Google was much more visible here (in part because they were a "platinum sponsor"), and perhaps more importantly, the "how to" sessions they hosted Wednesday afternoon were packed by interested developers and technologists.

Add to that a conversation I had with Dave Nielsen, one of the founders and organizers of Cloud Camp. He pointed out that Google's market is actually much smaller than Amazon's, being a targeted framework in a specific programming language. If you aren't building potentially large-scale Web applications, or "Big Table-friendly" data processing applications, Google won't work very well for you. So, there are far fewer App Engine customers available to trumpet their success to the market. Point taken.

Finally, Google used this conference to confirm that another programming language is coming to App Engine soon, though they refused to say which one. (The big money is betting on Java, as Google primarily uses Python, Java, and C/C++, the latter clearly being a poor candidate for a PaaS offering.) They must be making that investment for a reason, especially in light of Google killing off other services in the past few weeks.

I'd like to see Google work with their customers to market any successes on App Engine more aggressively, perhaps even finding an Animoto or New York Times-quality case study of how the platform performed in a way that would have been impossible without it. Give me a reason to believe that App Engine will change the world.

Help me out here. Is Google App Engine a success, and why?