Amazon Web Services vs. Google App Engine: The Race to the One-Click Cloud

August 27, 2008
One-Click Shopping

Can Amazon Build the One-Click Cloud?

It’s a great time to program for the cloud, no matter what Ted Dziuba’s entertaining but barely coherent rants have to say (will someone get that guy some experience?). Amazon and Google are going toe-to-toe, with Amazon’s addition of sorting in Simple DB bringing it up to par with Google App Engine’s Datastore API. Sorting was the biggest missing piece in Simple DB and the most compelling reason to choose the Datastore API instead. No longer.  

But Google App Engine (GAE) and the Datastore API still win. Here’s why:

  1. The Datastore API is projected to be 10x cheaper. $0.15-$0.18 per GB-month sounds a lot better than Simple DB’s $1.50 per GB-month.
  2. GQL. GAE’s SQL subset is just brain dead simple. As adept as programmers are at learning new frameworks, it’s nice to have something brain dead every once in awhile. Simple DB takes a few more cycles to learn (brain cycles that is — more coffee and such. Modafinil perhaps? Anyone tried it? I’m curious).
  3. GAE has better Object Relational Mapping (ORM). GAE basically uses Django’s sweet ORM system. You’ve got to jump through a lot more hoops to get something as nice with Simple DB. 
  4. GAE automatically scales the web application, not just the database. With Amazon, you have to add load balancing and bring machines up and down yourself, even if you’re using Simple DB. While there are third-party tools to help, they’re not built-in. Again, GAE is brain dead here.  

Sure, App Engine only supports Python. The ultimate question, though, is what functionality can you get in the end? For web apps, App Engine gives you more, particularly for scaling (which is kind of the whole point). Don’t know Python? Learn it. It will save you time in the end. Instead of endlessly fiddling with your load balancer and custom scripts for bringing instances up and down, you’ll spend your time adding the next killer feature your users will love.

In the end, the Amazon/Google “main event” is a huge win for you, me, and our users. The sorting announcement from Amazon comes on the heals of a flurry of other new features from both companies, including Amazon’s impressive persistent storage addition for EC2 called the Elastic Block Store, querying by attributes on Simple DB, GAE’s support for 10 applications per user instead of 3, GAE’s batch writes, etc. Neither one is pulling any punches, and the tools at our disposal as developers are progressing at a breathtaking pace as a result.

Amazon’s is clearly the more complete offering (you can do anything on it, in any language), but it needs to learn from Google’s focus on the dominant deployment scenarios.  Amazon could easily win if it does the following:

  1. Makes Simple DB pricing competitive with Google’s projected prices.
  2. Adds a query language for Simple DB along the lines of GQL.
  3. Adds automatic scaling for web applications, not just the database.
  4. Offers complete deployment solutions for the dominant web applications frameworks, from Tomcat/Spring/Hibernate to Django and Zend, with ORM models already adapted to Simple DB, instances automatically replicated with traffic, etc. Basically the same thing as App Engine for more web app frameworks than App Engine supports and adapted to the Amazon platform. Sure, there are third-party solutions for some of this stuff, but those will never be trusted as much as something offered directly from Amazon.

I’m a big fan of Amazon and Werner Vogels (one of the most innovative people in the industry, and also apparently a pretty nice guy), but Amazon desperately needs to learn from what Google has done. It’s ultimately a question of “usability” for developers. The originators of “one-click shopping” are losing in the game they practically invented. 

Amazon needs to turn on the one-click cloud.


Where Google App Engine Spanks Amazon’s Web Services: S3, EC2, Simple DB, SQS

May 28, 2008

First off, I loooove Amazon Web Services (AWS), and we make heavy use of S3, EC2, Simple DB, and Elastic IPs for LittleShoot. We run everything on Amazon, but that’s about to change.  I’ve been in the App Engine beta for about a month, and despite all of the astonishing ways AWS makes building web sites easy, Google App Engine makes it far easier. Here’s why:

1) Google App Engine Has Better Scalability  

Google migrates your application across its infrastructure automatically as needed. With EC2, you have to manually detect machine load and bring instances up or down accordingly. You need to set up load balancing and clustering. While Amazon gives you far more control, it’s also far more work.  With Google App Engine, it’s all done for you.

2) Google App Engine Has a Better Database

Google App Engine’s Big Table blows Amazon’s Simple DB out of the water, and that’s coming from a big fan of Simple DB and Amazon CTO Werner Vogels. Simple DB thankfully yanks developers out of the relational database mindset and automatically replicates data across machines for scalability. You do have to learn a completely new query syntax, however, and, as this blog has noted, sorting is not officially supported. Simple DB is also still in beta.  

With App Engine, you’re using the same database, Big Table, Google engineers use to power some of the busiest sites on the Internet. Billions of queries have been hammering out kinks in Big Table for years. You know it will scale.  What’s more, App Engine’s “GQL” gives developers a familiar SQL-like syntax, lowering the learning curve compared to Simple DB.  Big Table also supports sorting.  Perhaps most significantly, Simple DB costs far more. While Google’s final pricing announcement later this year may change, today’s announcement didn’t mention any difference in price for data stored in the database versus anywhere else. On Simple DB, that data costs $1.50 per GB-month. On App Engine, it appears to cost $0.15 – $0.18 per GB-month. Wow.

3) Google App Engine is Cheaper 

Beyond the database, App Engine gives you the first 5 million or so page views per month for free.  That’s a lot of page views. It doesn’t put you up with the Internet’s top dogs, of course, but at 5 million page views you should be making cash. App Engine is free precisely when you’re building your company and keeping costs low is the most important. If you go beyond that 5 million, Google’s I/O event today will reveal newly announced prices that are remarkably similar to Amazon’s current offerings. They both price everything per GB or CPU-hour, and the numbers are barely distinguishable. That first 5 million page views and the apparent huge disparity in database storage pricing are by far the biggest differentiators, both dramatically tipping the scales in favor of Google.

Conclusion

For building scalable web applications quickly, App Engine beats AWS by a surprisingly wide margin.  Note, however, this refers specifically to web applications. For anything custom, you need Amazon. Because App Engine only supports Python, you also need Amazon for running any non-Python code. While this is a significant difference, many good developers are facile with multiple languages and can move rapidly between them.  Amazon’s flexibility makes it win out for many applications, but not for the most common application there is: web sites.  App Engine is more of a “domain-specific cloud” for web applications, but it’s shockingly good at what it does.  

Oh yeah, and it’s cheap.