Ex-Google engineer dubs Goofrastructure 'truly obsolete'

MapReduce and BigTable as 'ancient, creaking dinosaurs'


A former Google engineer who worked on a library at the heart of "nearly every Java server at Google" has dubbed the company's much-ballyhooed backend software "well and truly obsolete".

In a blog post published earlier this week, Dhanji R. Prasanna announced that he had resigned from the company, and though he praised Google in many ways, he made a point of saying that the company's famously distributed back-end is behind the times.

"Here is something you may have heard but never quite believed before: Google's vaunted scalable software infrastructure is obsolete," he wrote. "Don't get me wrong, their hardware and datacenters are the best in the world, and as far as I know, nobody is close to matching it. But the software stack on top of it is 10 years old, aging and designed for building search engines and crawlers. And it is well and truly obsolete."

As a member of the Google Wave team, Prasanna helped build the search and indexing pipelines for the ill-fated effort to reinvent communication on the web, but he also worked on Guice, a library "at the heart of nearly every single Java server at Google".

Prasanna did not immediately respond to a request to discuss his post. But he goes on to describe Google's Protocol Buffers, BigTable distributed database, and MapReduce distributed number-crunching platform as "ancient, creaking dinosaurs", compared with outside open source projects like MessagePack, JSON, and Hadoop, which is based on the ideas behind Google's MapReduce and distributed file system.

Google has previously acknowledged some short comings with the likes of MapReduce. But Prasanna went so far that newer Google infrastructure projects such as Megastore as well as developer tools such as Google Web Toolkit and Closure were "sluggish, overengineered Leviathans" compared to projects like MongoDB and jQuery. He complained that Google's new projects are "designed by engineers in a vacuum, rather than by developers who have need of tools."

Google is famously secretive about its back-end software infrastructure. It has published research papers on platforms such as the Google File System, Google MapReduce, and BigTable, but it otherwise says very little about how these platforms are used within the company. And, yes, the platforms are closed source.

On the public mailing list for Google App Engine – an online service that lets you run your own applications atop Google's infrastructure – Google developer programs engineer Ikai Lan took issue with at least some of Prasanna's post.

"The bit about Hadoop, for instance, raised a lot of eyebrows amongst Googlers who have extensive use of both (new hires with a few years Hadoop experience)," he said. "I'd also disagree that we are not rebuilding things. In fact, Google has the opposite problem of other technology companies: instead of 'don't touch it, it works!', we err on the side of 'it can be better, we should improve it - mid flight!'"

Prasanna did not actually say that Google has failed to rebuild its platforms. At one point, he specifically mentioned Megastore, a real-time, high-replication layer built atop BigTable. But he did imply that efforts to rebuild at Google are slow.

"In the short time I've been outside Google I've created entire apps in Java in the space of a single workday," he said. "I've gotten prototypes off the ground, shown it to people, or deployed them with hardly any barriers." This, however, would seem to describe a switch from any large corporation.

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