No, it wasn't Database.com, Chatter Free, RemedyForce, or the super-cool debut of SiteForce. Don't get me wrong, those are great stories with game-changing potential for Cloud developers (again, SiteForce...Wow!). They just weren't heavy duty jaw droppers.
This one was.
Salesforce.com is acquiring Heroku for $239 Million.
What is Heroku, and what does this have to do with Google's mojo?
Heroku is a multi-tenant platform and hosting environment for Ruby on Rails. Using Git, an application developer pushes code to a repository on Heroku. This code is automatically compiled into a self-contained, read-only application, ready to run on the Heroku grid. They manage all the infrastructure and software layers, actively curating everything to ensure stability and scalability. It's an example of a Cloud Technology concept called Platform as a Service ("PaaS"), and it's part of the most important evolution of IT in over a decade.
Google's been in the PaaS game for almost two years with Google App Engine. First previewed in spring 2008, App Engine promised something amazing: Give developers access to the same building blocks that Google uses for their own applications, then run and scale them reliably...even under heavy loads with large amounts of data. As someone who loves application development as much as I loathe system administration, App Engine was the most exciting thing I had seen in a long time.
Since it's launch, Google added a Java runtime to App Engine and worked very hard to extend application quotas and increase reliability (not always successfully). But what's been happening lately with App Engine?
Aside from last week's release of the 1.4.0 SDK, Google's been pretty quiet about App Engine the past few months. Check out the App Engine Blog and you'll see an alarming decline in posts since August 2010. Normally, I wouldn't think too much of this, but after Google suddenly pulled the plug on Google Wave earlier this year, anyone working with a "Beta" Google product should ask themselves the following: "What has Google done lately to demonstrate that this technology is going to be around next year?"
Meanwhile, in roughly the same time frame, Heroku has delivered a beloved service to a large, active development community. They seem to have taken the promise of App Engine, and simply kicked Google's ass at execution. Now Salesforce.com sweeps in and scoops them up, betting $212M cash (and another $27M in stock) that PaaS for the masses has legs. With that kind of commitment, I think it's safe to say that Heroku will still be here when Dreamforce 2011 rolls around.
What does this have to do with Google's mojo?
As an IT professional, I've believed for years that Google is the platform of the future. Stop me at a cocktail party and I would talk your ear off about how Going Google will change your life. Google's services weren't always perfect, but they were innovative. Sure, they lacked features sometimes, but improvement came incrementally and consistently. And best of all, the price point (free) was impossible to argue with. Betting on the Cloud was easy because the Consumer's biggest barrier to entry (price) was eliminated.
I think that Heroku's success indicates that a profound change has occurred. Moving to the Cloud is not just about "free" anymore. Moving to the Cloud is about being FAST. The argument is no longer how much money you can save, but how quickly your business can pivot when it needs to.
I still love Google, even as I worry about App Engine's future.
Full disclosure: I absolutely love Google. I'm proud to be called a Google Fanboy, especially when photographic evidence exists to support the claim.
My enthusiasm for all things Google has survived the death of Wave, the birth of Buzz, and the completely useless introduction of Instant Search. But watching Heroku mature this year (not to mention Salseforce.com's multi-million dollar endorsement yesterday), has made me realize that Google is not always going to be as innovative as I want to give them credit for.
In the end, that's why I feel like Google is losing its mojo.
When an unashamed fanboy like me pulls himself out of the Google-juice long enough to ask "why is Google dropping the ball so much lately?", maybe an alarm bell should be ringing somewhere in Mountain View.