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Platform as a Service: Read the fine print

Platform as a Service: Read the fine print

I’m surprised at the number of startups that are now going directly to the cloud, bypassing traditional web hosting solutions and avoiding the need to own a server in-house. That’s great news, and at a minimum it shows that the big players — Google, Amazon and Microsoft — are marketing well to the startup crowd. But I am even more surprised at the number of startups that make critical cloud platform selections without reading the fine print.

The little details with Platform as a Service (PaaS) are the ones that cause the most pain to startups. They will lock you in to a vendor, force you to use a given programming language and framework, and will frequently make you tear your hair out catering to unusual timeout rules.

Google AppEngine strictly enforces these rules, limiting all request to 30 seconds, restricting you to 1000 records per database query and forcing you to use python-only libraries. And of-course, moving off the AppEngine platform to a standard server will leave behind a trace of code spaghetti built needlessly to cater to your platform selection. Yes, Google AppEngine is free for startups, but note the hidden costs.

Of-course, Google AppEngine (and Microsoft Azure) are offering a tradeoff. Adhere to these rules and you can avoid the hassles of managing your own server, à la Amazon EC2. It’s an awesome offer — developers can avoid touching servers, operating systems, patches, consoles and the mundane tasks of upkeeping a server and database. But don’t bet all your startup’s money on PaaS until you have read all the details in their rule book…

By Simon Ellis

“Simon is also the owner of LabSlice, a new startup that allows companies to distribute Virtual Demos using the cloud.” Labslice is also a regional finalist in the Amazon Web Services competition.

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2 Responses to Platform as a Service: Read the fine print

  1. I believe the constraints you point out are not traditional but that is not to say that they lead you to your doom. Development on app engine is standard Python programming (or Java and Spring if you prefer) and you get to use Django and Memcached – perhaps just as you would building those apps in traditional environments. Wouldn't be too hard to migrate that to a standard LAMP stack – Java Spring arguably has even better abstractions for porting the app – that is the whole point of http://www.vmware.com/cloudportability/index.html . Products such as Eucalyptus and AppDrop show an emerging world of recreating those PaaS offerings outside of Amazon and Google.

  2. Your are right. These constraints don't devalue the offering from Google and Microsoft PaaS solutions (amongst others), which are otherwise really good technologies. A good startup will be aware of PaaS constraints, know how to deal with them and have an escape route ready to a standard VPS host if things don't look right. The companies you mention are bringing further innovation to the table, and I am sure that over time any kinks with these ideas will sort themselves out (eg. higher limits, fewer restrictions).

    What surprises me is that startups naturally migrate to Google AE because they want to program in Python, and Google is a "cool company that is not evil". Likewise, big business tends to look at Microsoft Azure, due to the natural relationships there. And then the programmers only find out what about PaaS limitations when they actually hit them, rather than due to a serious upfront analysis.

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