Google App Engine Pricing Makes Developers Steam and Sputter

Google recently has been releasing updates quite often to its Google App Engine API, its Platform-as-a-service offering. The monthly release cycle was looked at quite favorably by developers. At Google I/O this year, the App Engine team had announced that the service would be going out of preview and would bring in a pricing model to better support developers. The new pricing is here and developers aren't happy.

The blog post announcing the changes is short and shies away from getting into the pricing details:

We know many of you would rather code than think about your budget and billing settings, so to help with the transition we are extending a one-time courtesy credit of $50 to all free Apps that sign up for billing and all paid Apps that modify their budgets between now and October 31, 2011.

The $50 credit, as well as an optimization guide are, perhaps, a sign of Google anticipating the developer reaction once they understand the increases the pricing changes will cause. Based on the developer outcry, it seems even many small applications will be unable to stay within the free quotas.

Guillaume Laforge, creator of App Engine tool Gaelyk, analyzed how the changes affect him:

I was aware of the changes, the upcoming prices and quotas, but I wasn't expecting my small low-traffic apps to go beyond the free quotas, and force me to have to pay for those small Gaelyk apps!

The big problem is the cost of the "frontend instance hours". An app running all the time, with low trafic, but enough to keep a frontend instance running all day will cost you 30 bucks a month with this new pricing policy.

Laforge goes on to mention similar posts by other developers. There is also a Google Group thread that is titled “Keep it Short: Who is forced to leave GAE?” If you visit the Administration Console of your application, you can visit Billing History and see what your new costs are going to be compared to the current costs.

Google App Engine continues to be a fine platform and had one of the most developer-friendly quotas to begin with. Developers have also been one of its main champions and with the pricing changes, developers are being left with a very small window to either make changes or move on to other platforms. Moving to other platforms is easier said than done because PaaS platforms like Google do have several APIs that are locked-in by nature and developers who have tuned their apps to work well within the App Engine ecosystem will be surely considering their options in the long run, if not short term.

This is the second instance in recent times, where developers have been upset by changes in Google’s products. The most recent example is the Google Translate API, which in May was marked for shutdown at the end of the year. Since then Google has taken a step back and released it as a paid version. App Engine cannot be compared to Google Translate API since it is a platform and the stakes are much higher. Google will need to address developer concerns soon or risk alienating the many independent developers who considered it their cloud PaaS of choice.