DigitalOcean is a leading upstart cloud hosting provider. DigitalOcean focuses only on developers’ needs, unlike Amazon’s AWS with its everything-to-all-people approach. The company has data centers located in Amsterdam, Singapore, London, San Francisco, and New York. Early on, it received significant media coverage following pop megastar Beyonce’s decision to host her album on their servers in 2013. Over the years, DigitalOcean saw explosive growth and attracted large sums of venture-capital funding.
DigitalOcean zeroes in on three main selling points to differentiate itself: pricing, high performance virtual machines, and simplicity. Their business model concentrates on giving developers a way to quickly start up affordable Linux instances called droplets. The most popular Linux are supported and with just one more click you can launch several applications — Ruby on Rails, a LAMP stack, Docker, Ghost, Wordpress, etc.
DigitalOcean’s pricing is reputedly THE best among all cloud providers. Their prices are affordable, even to very small developer setups. And what’s more, they don’t hit you with hidden charges for add-ons like more traffic and fixed IP addresses. Pricing starts at $0.007/hour or $5/month and they provide an easy slider to convert between hourly and monthly pricing.
DigitalOcean also prides itself on offering only high-performance machines. All disk drives are SSD, network speed is 1Gbps, and droplet startup time is just 55 seconds (compared to 1–3 minutes for other large cloud providers). Independent performance tests place DigitalOcean nodes at or near the top of performance tests, far above Amazon machines.
Lastly, DigitalOcean offers a simple, user friendly, uncomplicated setup. It is targeted at developers and only offers machines running some version of the Linux operating system and related services — a virtual machine and DNS management. Over time it has expanded the class of products to include amenities like load-balancing, analytics, configuration management, hosted databases and so on. DigitalOcean still functions true to its DNA as a bare-bones IaaS provider for Linux developers, and they aren’t ashamed to say so. From an early review of their services: “The services they provide are quite basic — you get VPS’s in the cloud and DNS management, that’s all. No fancy load balancing, hosted databases, Hadoop clusters, etc. Compared to AWS, for example this could be seen as a disadvantage, but don’t judge just yet.”
Amazon’s AWS is the market leader by far; in fact it is estimated that Amazon has as much computing capacity as the next 11 competitors on the list combined.
Amazon’s AWS is really an umbrella offering consisting of a bewildering array of various branded IaaS and PaaS solutions. The largest and best-known of these is the EC2 IaaS solution.
- PaaS configuration (Elastic Beanstalk)
- Storage (S3 & Glacier products).
- Databases (RDS, RedShift, SimpleDB, DynamoDB).
- Networking & Content Delivery (Route 53, CloudFront).
- Deployment & Configuration Management (OpsWorks, CloudFormation).
- Content Delivery (CloudFront).
- Load balancing.
- Application development platforms.
Amazon owns the largest data centers in the world. Separate data centers have been built in China to service that market exclusively. These are completely isolated from the others to placate Chinese concerns about US government spying, which have of course been heightened (legitimized!) following the Edward Snowden and Wikileaks revelations. In 2013 Amazon also won a coveted contract to create GovCloud which is a private cloud for the U.S. government. In response to Amazon’s dominance in the cloud platform space, we’ve created a 2-part post on implementing GuardRail with Amazon AWS EC2, so be sure to check it out as well.
Data Centers And Product Inventory
As one would expect for the world leader in cloud services, AWS operates the largest and most extensive network of cloud data centers worldwide. The cloud provider has continued to introduce new regions to support the needs of its global customer base. Now, AWS has the following regions and locations:
- Asia Pacific: Mumbai, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo
- Canada: Central
- China: Beijing
- Europe: Frankfurt, Ireland, London
- South America: São Paulo
- US East: N. Virginia, Ohio
- US West: N. California, Oregon
DigitalOcean, while having a smaller footprint of data centers, has a network of data centers spanning the globe too. These are the regions it has on offer:
- AMS2, AMS3: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- BLR1: Bangalore, India
- FRA1: Frankfurt, Germany
- LON1: London, United Kingdom
- TOR1: Toronto, Canada
- NYC1, NYC2, NYC3: New York City, United States
- SFO1, SFO2: San Francisco, United States
- SGP1: Singapore
An important distinction here is that AWS now offers servers in the China region, AWS China (Beijing) and AWS China (Ningxia),which, due to Chinese regulations, are offered by AWS’s Chinese partners. If you are operating products to serve the Chinese market, this may make a crucial difference in which service you go with.
For AWS, these are some of the biggest and most heavily used products, out of all the numerous ones on offer:
- Amazon EC2: provides cloud computing in the Amazon Web Services cloud
- Amazon S3: offers object storage and retrieval services
- AWS Lambda: offers pay per use compute time to run serverless apps
- Amazon Glacier: low cost storage suitable for archival purposes
- Amazon SNS: the Simple Notification Service provides pub/sub notifications to mobile users
- Amazon Elastic Block Store: provides persistent block storage for EC2 servers
- Amazon Kinesis: a managed service for real time processing of streaming big data in the cloud
- Amazon VPC: the Virtual Private Cloud service provides customers with a secure virtual private cloud for their cloud computing needs
- Amazon SQS: the Simple Queue Service provides distributed message queues for microservices and distributed systems
Its product offerings might be less extensive, but DigitalOcean has the essentials covered for small and medium sized businesses. Still, just about everything DigitalOcean offers can be found on AWS. Here are some of DigitalOcean’s biggest products:
- Droplets: fast and flexible cloud compute capacity
- DigitalOcean Kubernetes: service offering simple, user friendly, managed Kubernetes
- Managed Databases: managed MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Redis, with setups, backups, and updating done for you by DigitalOcean
- Spaces Block Storage: S3-compatible block storage with a CDN for speed
- Volumes Block Storage: SSD block storage for Droplets
- Networking: Load Balancers, Floating IPs, Cloud Firewalls and DNS
While DigitalOcean’s product range has expanded beyond what it offered a few years ago, the difference in revenue with AWS juxtaposes the two perfectly. DigitalOcean has scaled beyond $250 million in annual revenue, whereas AWS now does $9 billion a quarter, which translates to annual revenue of around $36 billion. That’s several magnitudes of difference.
Cost, Performance Comparisons
In line with its value proposition of making cloud computing simpler for small businesses, DigitalOcean keeps its pricing simple as well. While it quotes an hourly rate for its Droplets, there’s a simple, predictable monthly price, which makes planning and budgeting much simpler. AWS goes strictly with a pay-as-you-go approach for its more than 160 products and services. Notably, you can make your AWS costs more predictable and save money by using reserved capacity rather than pay as you go, while Amazon Lightsail has made available a simpler, more predictably priced way to leverage AWS for small apps. Reserved capacity involves an upfront payment for your virtual server, with the potential to save as much as 75% compared to what you would pay with provisioning your EC2 instance on a pay-as-you-go plan.
DigitalOcean’s pricing for Droplets and other services lets you see ahead of time how much you will end up paying. For example, a 1GB RAM Droplet with 25 GB SSD disk capacity will cost $5/month. This comes out to $0.007/hr, which is a significantly lower price than the comparable AWS EC2 t2.micro cloud server which has a pay as you go cost of $0.0116/hr. This general trend applies to a lot of the two competitors’ product offerings, with DigitalOcean generally costing less for equivalent or comparable cloud computing capacity.
While both AWS and DigitalOcean have transparent pricing, AWS prices have tended to be opaque and seemingly mysterious in the past. This has made price to be a common FAQ for people considering AWS services. The difference with DigitalOcean is that the latter is upfront and clear about how much you end up paying on a monthly basis, the better to suit small businesses’ budgeting and planning needs.
It also doesn’t hurt that DigitalOcean has a pricing edge over AWS for most of their overlapping products. For AWS, the complexity of the ecosystem means that the target buyers, large enterprises with complex requirements, might prefer to stay in the AWS ecosystem to manage all their cloud computing and web hosting needs rather than go strictly on price. Large enterprise customers of AWS have included Apple and PayPal, among others, though DigitalOcean has some big names using it too.
In a notable performance benchmark study, DigitalOcean came out with superior performance per dollar spent. The study compared VM performance at comparable levels of spend across major cloud providers. DigitalOcean had higher CPU performance per dollar, almost 40% higher than AWS and more than 50% higher than Google Cloud.