Contact Info

(for those who care)

Instant Gratification   

Sun, 18 Dec 2011

Google App-Engine “Doesn’t” Scale

I agree for the most part with your final conclusion: “no system that is likely to become productionized at scale should be written on App Engine.”

This is a sad conclusion to arrive at after all these years, especially when the original promise of App Engine was (essentially) “write your applications against our strange, quirky API, and they’ll scale far more cheaply and reliably than they could otherwise.”


I’m going to have to add fuel to the fire here, 100% agreement.

GAE is “irreplaceable” in the sense that while the API has been mostly duplicated, the ability to scale that API to arbitrarily large workloads has not.

There was a blog article a long time ago that talked about designing a future language and came to the conclusion that perhaps even performance characteristics should be specified. For example, a language where sort might have n^2 vs. n log n performance characteristics will work fine for basic workloads but will wreak havoc when used at higher capacities. Specifically, after a certain point, performance expectations become part of the implementaiton.

So you have GAE, which has incredible “Superman” powers, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, etc. and irreplaceable for automatically scaling to arbitrarily large workloads. And therein lies the rub, as described in the linked article.

The one feature that GAE gives you, the reason you’re sacrificing everything to work in GAE’s world is the one feature you can’t count on. You can’t count on it due ENTIRELY to the mismanagement by Google of their GAE developer community. E-N-T-I-R-E-L-Y. It is a good thing Netflix made their pricing and customer-rlation screwups after Google did otherwise I would say they had “Netflix-level” poor planning and communication.

Actually there are two reasons. One is that GAE cannot be replaced (there is no alternate GAE provider that can scale to some arbitrary 1TB workload) and two is that GAE so poorly mismanaged the “transition to non-beta” product for GAE.

A few years ago I sung the praises of Google’s strategy with GAE and Adwords. I would tell people: “Where is” And is actually because every auto forum is running Adwords against their content. And then they launched GAE and my expectation was that a lot of the autos websites ( would transition to using a GAE-based forum and google would make yet-even-more-money hand over fist.

They give you the tools to get started capturing users and generating content, the tools to monitize it, and the more users / monetizing you get you bump from the GAE free tier to the GAE pay tier. Of the $100/mo you get from Google Adwords, you start paying $1/mo to Google and earning $102 from Adwords. Then $10/mo to Google and earning $120 from Adwords as your userbase continues to grow.

But alas, this wasn’t meant to be. Google has a unique, challenging, irreplaceable developer product to use and the one thing it excels at (scaling) is the one thing that is impossible to trust.

At this point, I imagine that Amazon’s EC2 + “Individual Dumb Services” is far better compared to Google’s style (which doesn’t bode well for future Google acquisitions……). S3 is too expensive? Move to a different “I serve files from big hard-drives” provider. SimpleEmail not doing it for you? Get on board with a different “pay-to-spam” provider. EC2 doesn’t match your needs? Find a different cloud provider and have a minimal implementation up and running on them.

Amazon, by designing their services around commodity components that encourage competition and API duplication has paradoxically made their service more architecturally robust (in the sense that a customer has tons of options for migration, price, and performance competition). Downtime(s) notwithstanding, it looks like the original blog author has hit the nail on the head.

EC2-style implementations require a bit more work up front but leave you in a more price-competitive situation if your product takes off and gets a lot of traffic. And your product won’t. 99.9% of the time you’re gonna be fine with a single box or a 4-box setup (2 frontend, 2 database). And if you do reach the giddy heights of needing GAE’s scalabilty, you have to begin each SEC filing with: “Assuming Google doesn’t raise prices for app-engine by ∞% like they did last year …”

Enjoy the Ferrari, Google and I guess everybody else will stick with their daily drivers.

11:57 CST | category / entries
permanent link | comments?

Like what you just read? Subscribe to a syndicated feed of my weblog, brought to you by the wonders of RSS.

Thanks for Visiting!