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'Appcelerating' Development For Google's App Engine

Google App Engine

Google's recently unveiled App Engine promises developers a means of hosting applications on the search leader's massive, scalable framework. Now, the effort is already underway to simplify the process.

Among the first to offer tools to help developers develop and deploy Python applications on Google's App Engine is Appcelerator, an open source, rich Internet application (RIA) development vendor.

Efforts by players like Appcelerator could help spur greater attention for Google's App Engine, which competes against Amazon's EC2 services amid burgeoning interest from both developers and businesses in cloud-based applications.

"This is something that people can really attach to -- if we can accelerate development and get you from zero to code complete, and then Google provides the on-demand infrastructure, that's really very compelling," Matt Quinlan, vice president of product development at Appcelerator, told InternetNews.com.

Appcelerator offers a template for App Engine-focused Python applications that aims to simplify the task of importing existing Python development.

It's not entirely plug-and-play, though.

"Today there is still a bit of manual labor, but for new application development, we make it easy to get there," Quinlan said. "Obviously, if you've got a 60,000-line site, to upload that to Google App Engine, with or without us, will require some modification -- just because of some of the limitations they have to place from a security perspective."

"We're primarily just trying to provide the ability from within the tools to be able to deploy directly into the Google cloud," he added.

Quinlan said the effort behind Appcelerator for Google App Engine developed quickly, using only the SDK and associated components that the online giant made publicly available earlier this week.

Appcelerator had already been providing support in its RIA framework for Python, so adding in App Engine wasn't a far stretch -- though there were some hurdles.

One obstacle had been supporting Google's BigTable database, a key part of App Engine. No other vendor on Earth uses BigTable, leaving Appcelerator with limited visibility into its operation.

As a result, a user could face difficulties in moving to Google's BigTable if they've already developed their application in Appcelerator or another Python tool, using a different database.

"We're hoping that Google will make it easier to leverage BigTable -- they seem to be the only ones using it now," Quinlan said. "In terms of the database itself, we haven't cracked that nut yet, but we will."

Even Python applications that don't tie into a database will require some adjustment before deployment on Google's App Engine, due to limitations with the online service's file structure.

"Google has to have some assumptions about how things are laid out, so we had to go through and specifically address some things," Quinlan said.

One of the biggest challenges facing tools like Appcelerator initially won't be technical in nature. Instead, they're related to demand: Google has limited App Engine to 10,000 developers during its initial test run. Quinlan himself wasn't one of the lucky few, he said.

Nevertheless, Appcelerator has ambitions for its tie-in to Google App Engine. The company's RIA development tools are all licensed under the GPL v3 open source license, and as such, are all freely available -- though Appcelerator follows the traditional open source model of charging for support subscriptions.

"I came from JBoss and Red Hat, so I'm very familiar with how to make money off free software," Quinlan quipped.