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Google urged to make a more loving cloud

Open source BigTable and improve fluffiness, please

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Structure 08 Yes, Google has opened its cloud to every developer down on earth. But for some, it's not quite as open as it should be.

Speaking this morning at Structure 08, a mini-conference dedicated to cloud computing, Jason Hoffman, founder and CTO of Joyent, called on Google to open source its cloud-based database, BigTable - or at least offer a version that developers can run on their own. Otherwise, Hoffman argued, apps built on Google's cloud - aka App Engine - will be stuck on Google's cloud.

"The reality is that if you're using BigTable as your data store and you want to get the benefit of scale, you can't leave," Hoffman said. "Unless Google either open sources BigTable or makes it so you can buy it and install it on your own servers, you're locked in."

Hoffman advocates what he calls "a freely available, fully-open-sourced, loving cloud" - a cloud that plays well with other clouds. And at this point, Google's unwilling to show that much love.

BigTable underpins many of Google's own online apps, and although it's happy to let others use the platform, it doesn't want competitors lifting the hood.

But the Mountain View outfit insists that its cloud allows for more portability than you might think. Yes, BigTable is closed, but Google still envisions a world where developers can freely move code from App Engine to third-party clouds, including Amazon's Web Services platform.

"It's a minor mis-characterization to say that App Engine is proprietary," Google senior engineer Christophe Bisciglia said during this morning's panel. "The API is very well documented, and one developer has actually built something called Appdrop, which allowed you to take app engine code and run it on EC2 - just by changing the implementation of our file presence and data-base layer.

"One of the things I think is very exciting about App Engine is that it could create a way of building portable applications. Right now, with our developers, we're previewing Google infrastructure. But there is nothing about the model that would prevent App Engine from running anywhere from a local server to any other variety of cloud."

Bisciglia went on to say that the App Engine API is not specific to BigTable. But he admitted that third-party databases won't scale as well. After all, he said, Google has years of experience serving online apps to millions of people across the globe.

"I would argue that Google is a little bit ahead in terms of BigTable," he said. "But the platform doesn't prevent somebody who builds a better mousetrap - a better BigTable - to come in and compete."

Does that mean developers can use their own databases today? Not quite. "[App Engine] is a developer preview, so I don't want to make promises about what will happen when we go out of the developer preview stage," Bisciglia said.

So it's not a loving cloud today. But it could be someday.

Of course, App Engine isn't the only big-name cloud facing the portability problem. Amazon and Salesforce.com are less than loving too. If apps are to jump from cloud to cloud, everyone must open source their code. Or agree to open standards. ®

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