Saturday, November 27, 2010

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, √† 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...

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