googlewebappenFor all the rivals Google is making as it continues to expand into nearly every facet of the Internet, Amazon has thus far remained one fellow power relatively unscathed. That is about to change. Tonight, the search giant is announcing Google App Engine, which will allow web developers to build and deploy apps on top of Google’s infrastructure.

This is great news for a lot of developers, as it will take the headache of system administration and maintenance out of their hands. (Now all they have to worry about is coming up with a good idea and writing the code…) On the other hand, if you’re a startup focusing on web hosting and deployment, there is a new 700-pound gorilla in your room.

Yet, it’s still Amazon who must be worrying the most. With this new release, Google is aiming squarely at Amazon Web Services (AWS), specifically the popular Simple Storage Service (S3), SimpleDB and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) services.

amasonzzAmazon has garnered a lot of praise for these services, but if Google is able to undercut its prices — look out. No specific pricing details have been given yet on Google’s service, but the preview release (limited to the first 10,000 developers who sign up), which goes live tonight at 9 PM PST will give away a free quota of 500 MB of storage and enough CPU and network bandwidth to support approximately five million pageviews per month for an app. Amazon’s prices vary based on which service customers are using, but it typically charges a per gigabyte rate for both storage and data transfer.

The remaining details are thin right now — for example, we don’t know exactly what kind of applications will be supported — but it’s probably safe to say that with Google’s reputation, the app engine is going to take off very quickly. For one thing, we can probably believe Google’s claim that, using BigTable (Google’s high performance database system) and other Google products, it will absorb any surges in traffic without any trouble. The company also promises easy integration with other Google services as well as its library of APIs.

It’s also not clear yet if the Google App Engine will be a central part of Google’s OpenSocial initiative going forward, though one could probably assume so.

Our own Anthony Ha is at the Campfire event taking place right now at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA and will update throughout the evening with more details on the launch.

[Update: Google’s presentation just ended. There was a long, in-depth demo showing off the App Engine and Google’s software development kit. The presenters built, deployed to the web and managed a guestbook application in just a few minutes.

They also emphasized the Google App Engine is still in very early stages and will evolve based on developer feedback. In the months to come Google plans to add support for uploading and downloading large files, additional capacity, other languages (right now it just supports Python) and offline processing.

Google also showed off some sample applications they’ve built on the App Engine, which (probably intentionally) ape existing internet applications: a movie quote finder, a bar finder that integrates with Google Maps and a chat room that looked quite similar to Campfire. Google has also ported an early version of recent acquisition Jaiku to the App Engine.

(NB: Holding the event outdoors was a bad idea. Presenters spent almost as much time complaining about the cold as they did explaining the product. Also, my fingers are about to fall off. Maybe there’s something to this “blogging yourself to death” scare after all …)]

[Anthony Ha contributed to this story.]

[photo: flickr/johnnie w@alker]

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