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9/1/2011
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Google App Engine Price Hike Stuns Developers

A pricing change first discussed in May now prompts an outcry as developers see their bills skyrocket.

Google says it is looking into user discussions of App Engine's new pricing scheme--in the wake of vocal outrage at the magnitude of the change.

In May, Google announced that it would alter the price of App Engine, the company's platform as a service offering, later in the year. But the published pricing model didn't make many waves because few bothered to do the math.

Now that Google has begun offering App Engine users a way to calculate the new rate and compare it with the old rate, developers are realizing their bills will rise, by a factor of 10 or 100 or more in some cases, when the pricing change takes effect in a few months.

Nokia researcher and App Engine user Russell Beattie, for example, complains that under the new pricing model, the cost of his App Engine app for one day will rise from $2.63 to $34.38--a figure that will double in November after a 50% discount expires.

Santiago Lema, an iOS developer posting to Beattie's Google+ thread, echoes that sentiment. "I am stunned too," he wrote. "My (private) iPhone stats website used to cost me $0.41 per day. Now the estimate for past days is at about $7.00."

Developer Ugorji Nwoke in a blog post slammed Google. "Google has done a major disservice to its cult of developers by changing the pricing terms of App Engine ridiculously while giving developers short notice to react," he wrote. "In doing so, Google may have done severe damage to their brand and the trust that developers put in them."

A before-and-after App Engine price comparison thread in Google Groups shows similar concerns, with developers reporting increases of 50%, 100%, or much more. A separate thread has been started for developers who will be forced to leave App Engine due to the increased rates.

Developers may be able to reduce these charges through code optimization, but many of those complaining insist their code is already optimized.

Google offered a non-committal response to the outcry. "We're taking a look at the user discussions right now," a company spokesperson noted in an email.

On the App Engine website, the company says that it is looking into special programs for non-profits, educational institutions, and open-source projects.

Google has defended the price increase as a necessary business decision. "Most paying customers will see higher bills," the company says on its website. "During the preview phase of App Engine we have been able to observe what it costs to run the product as well as what typical use patterns have been. We are changing the prices now because GAE is going to be a full product for Google and therefore needs to have a sustainable revenue model for years to come."

Google developers can at least thank the company for its commitment to data portability. The company supported a project designed to reduce the risk of cloud lock-in: AppScale is an open-source framework for running Google App Engine applications on alternative cloud infrastructure and virtualization software, such as Amazon EC2, Eucalyptus, KVM, and Xen. If better prices can be found elsewhere, at least App Engine users have an escape route.

But AppScale isn't necessary to jump ship. "I've moved to a small VPS cluster at RackSpace Cloud," wrote Peter Petrov, a programmer based in Bulgaria, in a Google Groups post. "I rewrote my entire app as a Node.js application (previously was GAE/Python using Kay). Very happy so far, I don't think I'll ever return to GAE."

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