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Google has opened its cloud to outside developers.

Last night, while eating S'mores at an intimate developer gathering dubbed Campfire One, the world's largest ad broker unveiled App Engine, a free service that lets anyone build and run web apps on Google's very own distributed infrastructure. The cool kids call this cloud computing.

"The goal is to make it easy to get started with a new web app, and then make it easy to scale when that app reaches the point where it's receiving significant traffic and has millions of users," App Engine product manager Paul McDonald wrote late last night on the brand new Google App Engine Blog. "Google App Engine gives you access to the same building blocks that Google uses for its own applications, making it easier to build an application that runs reliably, even under heavy load and with large amounts of data."

In particular, the platform offers:

  • Dynamic webserving, with full support of common web technologies
  • Persistent storage (powered by Bigtable and GFS with queries, sorting, and transactions)
  • Automatic scaling and load balancing
  • Google APIs for authenticating users and sending email
  • Fully featured local development environment

BigTable is Google's homemade cloud database tool, which runs atop the company's homemade GFS file system. Yesterday, Michael TechCrunch Arrington predicted that Google would use Campfire One to launch BigTable as a web service, and we congratulate him on getting things kinda right.

Naturally, Google isn't the first to offer this sort of cloud computing platform. Amazon.com offers the Amazon Web Services, including its Elastic Computing Cloud (for processing power), Simple Storage Service (for storage), and SimpleDB (for database queries), while Salesforce.com serves up Appexchange. The difference is that the Google App Engine is free - at least in part.

App Engine is available today as a free "preview release," and with this release, applications are limited to 500MB of storage, 200M megacycles of CPU per day, and 10GB bandwidth per day. But somewhere down the road, Google will hawk more storage, more cycles, and more bandwidth at some unknown price. ""We expect most applications will be able to serve around 5 million pageviews per month," McDonald said, referring to the preview release. "In the future, these limited quotas will remain free, and developers will be able to purchase additional resources as needed."

At the moment, there's only room for 10,000 eager developers, but Google plans to increase that number "in the near future."

"We're by no means feature-complete, and we're giving you early access because we really want your feedback."

You can sign up for App Engine here, view all the documentation here, download the SDK here, and discuss the lot here.

Applications must be written in Python. But Google is considering other languages as well. ®

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