The Lucandra project looks very interesting, but is incomplete at this time (see the "to be dones" at the bottom of the linked page).
Cassandra is a great project. I almost incorporated it into the design of a customer project recently, but we decided to host on Amazon so using their EC2, S3, SQS, and Electric Map Reduce services won out over rolling a custom stack.
I think that this must be a start up dilemma: long term, it is probably least expensive running one's own small server farm, but when you are just getting started a "pay as you go" cloud approach using very solid infrastructure tools like EC2, S3, SQS, SimpleDB, etc. makes sense.
I can't say this from personal experience, but my gut feeling is that if you can live within the constraints of Google's AppEngine, then it is probably less expensive using AppEngine than running your own server farm - even long term. BTW, if you have not read my DevX article on implementing search on the Java version of AppEngine, please check it out.