Digital Ocean - A worthy competitor to AWS?

Digital Ocean - A worthy competitor to AWS?

Friday, 1 September 2017

When you think of “large web host” you immediately think Amazon Web Services or AWS for short: the behemoth that hosts content from the likes of Pinterest, Airbnb and Netflix. AWS officially launched in 2006 and by June 2007 they already boasted 180,000 developer accounts. Even though it was plagued with numerous outages, it has grown to report $1.57bn in sales by April 2015.

…Internet Dreams Studio actively makes extensive use of both AWS and DigitalOcean…

DigitalOcean was founded in 2011 by Ben and Moisey Uretsky and is based in New York City. Since then, their growth has been astronomical, growing 850% in the year preceding August 2014. Even though DigitalOcean started growing at a quicker rate than AWS, Amazon still has more than twice as many web-facing computers than DigitalOcean today. Even so, Netcraft reported in May 2015 that DigitalOcean had become the second-largest hosting company in the world in terms of web-facing computers.

What caused this startup to shoot up the ranks to become a worthy alternative to AWS? Simplicity and ease of use: their service was built with developers in mind. It boasts SSD cloud server deployments in 55 seconds and when coupled with 3rd party services like Laravel Forge (and especially Laravel), allows developers and web agencies to spin up servers and deploy to production in a matter of minutes. Their 1-click installs also mean it’s a cinch to deploy a quick LEMP environment for testing or a WordPress installation for a website.

There are some very obvious limitations though: there are no separate services for storage (S3 on AWS), database (RDS on AWS) or dedicated CDN (CloudFront on AWS) to name a few. It also lacks quick implementation of load balancers or auto-scaling rules (unless you feel comfortable scripting it using their API). Despite these shortcomings, a recent survey sent to DigitalOcean customers have given us hope that these were possibly in the pipeline.

As a web agency, we actively make extensive use of both AWS and DigitalOcean and have found great value in both for various client-specific infrastructure scenarios.

Even though AWS still towers above all with its plethora of web services, Digital Ocean has shown no sign of slowing down and once it starts adding dedicated services like CDNs and scalable cloud storage, AWS can expect to lose more than a handful of customers.

Updated on 17 February 2016

Digital Ocean has shown no signs of slowing down since we first published this article in June last year. In the months following that, they’ve secured more funding, added another data centre and expanded their service to include high availability and collaboration tools. Below is a summary of the highlights:

  • In July 2015, Digital Ocean secured $83 million in Series B funding. The funding was led by Access Industries, a U.S.-based firm whose portfolio includes technical giants like Facebook and Spotify.
  • In September 2015, they launched a new data centre in Toronto, Canada. This marked their 11th location worldwide and was in response to the expanding technology and information sector in major tech hubs like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
  • In October 2015, Digital Ocean announced new tools for high availability and collaboration. With the introduction of Floating IPs, developers can quickly associate an IP to another droplet, minimising any downtime and eliminating single points of failure.
  • In December 2015, Atlassian (who also made their IPO on the NASDAQ, valuing them at $4.37B) announced a feature that will allow developers to deploy straight to Digital Ocean (or even AWS or Azure) directly via the BitBucket UI.

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