Google Offers Free Web Application Hosting

Google has made a bolder move into web application hosting, unveiling the preview release of its Google App Engine service.

The Google App Engine allows developers to build web applications on the same systems that power other Google applications, affording good scalability without needing to worry about infrastructure. For those who are familiar with the Python programming language, Google App Engine offers far greater flexibility than Google's existing free hosting service, Google Pages.

In contrast to Amazon's EC2 service, which now offers scalable hosting through Elastic IP Addresses and Availability Zones, Google App Engine allows developers to get started with its service for free. Google's site claims that every Google App Engine application can use up to 500MB of storage and enough bandwidth and CPU for 5 million monthly page views.

With Amazon's recent offering of low-cost web application hosting, and now Google's free web application hosting, the conventional web hosting industry may be set to see some radical changes. With both services providing high scalability, yet without adding complexity, these could be seen as an attractive alternative to setting up a busy website on dedicated servers. Conversely, they are less likely to appeal to casual website owners, simply because the services require more knowledge and skill to use than simpler services such as Google Pages, Blogger or Apple iWeb.

The account registrations for the current preview release are limited to the first 10,000 developers, and only free accounts are available. Up to three applications can be created with a single Google App Engine account, and a number of applications have already been developed and are available at appgallery.appspot.com.

Google App Engine currently allows developers to write applications using Python 2.5, with some modules disabled for security reasons. A number of Python web frameworks will work on Google App Engine, and Django is included with the SDK for convenience.

Applications written for Google App Engine are not permitted to write to disk; instead, all data is stored in the Google App Engine datastore. A language called GQL uses SQL-like syntax to interface with the datastore. Scalability is achieved by using the Bigtable distributed storage system for structured data. The same storage system is used by a number of other popular Google projects, including web indexing, Google Earth and Google Finance.

The Google App Engine team have set up a new blog for the service at googleappengine.blogspot.com