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DigitalOcean vs Amazon AWS: Choose Your Best Cloud Provider

Written on 26 Mar 2019

Choosing the right cloud service can be a daunting task – there’s a whole host of platforms competing for your attention. Today we’re going to discuss the merits of DigitalOcean vs Amazon AWS. These services have very different focuses, and picking the right one for you is critical.

DigitalOcean vs. Amazon AWS

Swimming in the DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean provides a fairly specific suite of tools: VPS services; VM rental; storage; database and Kubernetes cluster management. They’ve been kicking around since 2011 and got their big break in 2013 when the Queen Bey herself hosted her fifth studio album Beyoncé on their servers. It caused a bit of an incident: Beyonce’s team didn’t alert them and they had to scramble to deal with the sudden huge surge in activity, but their VPS acquitted itself wonderfully.
The big focus of DigitalOcean is their high-performance Virtual Machines.
A DO Droplet is a highly affordable virtual instance that can come pre-loaded with several distros of linux or FreeBSD. They also offer a large number of pre-configured application setups including Docker, Ghost, Ruby on Rails and more. In addition, they’ve recently added support for loading custom images, allowing almost limitless options for advanced users. They are lightning-fast to spin up, and it’s a fairly straightforward process to get multiple containers going. If you need to spin up a VM or a container, DO is a user friendly yet powerful option.
DigitalOcean also lets you take images of a particular device, then spin them up as secure, walled-off instances. DO makes it very easy to send these images to other people so they can spin them up themselves. It makes remote collaboration a breeze.
Unlike many of their competitors (including AWS), DigitalOcean does not provide DDoS protection, and your droplet may lock up if it senses an attack- like many VPS providers, DO may take down your server if it’s getting hit hard or has been compromised. Services like cloudflare provide good protection for something that needs a DNS, but in any case if someone gets a hold of the direct IP for your instance, there’s nothing CloudFlare can do. There are people who poke known IP ranges for these VPS providers looking for random servers with SSH and a weak root password, but it’s hard to tell how much of a problem this could be for a targeted DDoS attack.
In the past, they’ve been pretty limited in terms of pre-setup specifications, though they’ve been working on that and they’ve added a number of diverse environments including, yes, an option for a Minecraft server.
DigitalOcean’s price structure is great for small businesses and new startups. There’s no hidden charges when it comes to add-ons, and like many VPS provider, their billing is by the hour up to a monthly price cap. They’re one of the cheaper services out there, starting as low as $5/mo. Their machines are also very powerful for their low cost: SSD based main storage, 1Gb/s advertised network speeds (often higher), and 55 second droplet startup times, while their competitors’ instances range from 1-3 minutes at a higher cost. They’re not the most powerful provider out there, but they punch well above their weight class; if you need basic services and Linux machines, DNS management and a solid VPS at very affordable prices, DigitalOcean is a good option.
Amazon web services

Lost in the Amazon AWS

AWS is a huge suite of services; their computing capacity surpasses their eleven largest competitors combined. AWS is an umbrella that includes a wide variety of IaaS and PaaS solutions including the direct competition – EC2 and Lightsail. Putting them against DigitalOcean is rather like putting a speedboat against a battleship: it really depends on your budget, and whether you’re looking to race or go to war.
Amazon has the largest data centres in the world. At the time of writing, they’re constructing the massive Data Centre #10, intended to service the People’s Republic of China. The tech giant has won coveted VPS contracts with major governments and continues to do so. They are absolutely dominant in their field. What do you need AWS to do for you? Data warehousing for fractions of a fraction of a cent per gigabyte? That’s Amazon Glacier. Instant, secure, worldwide wireless content delivery? That’s Amazon Cloudfront. A literal semi-truck that drives to your workplace, filled with servers ready to haul away exabytes of data? That’s Amazon Snowmobile.
Where they’re comparable is when you put DigitalOcean’s VPSs against Amazon’s EC2 and Lightsail. EC2 is their famous cloud computing service—DO has about 1% of its computing power. EC2 has traditionally been a lot more expensive, but Amazon are currently engaged in a brutal price war with their VPS competitors, and have dropped their prices 44 times in the last two years alone.
Lightsail is a very simple version of EC2: it uses the same servers but has a stripped-down user friendly interface a lot more like DigitalOcean’s. It seems to be designed as a direct competitor – even the naming is similar, though a lot of container naming is nautical. Lightsail’s maximum execute time is significantly faster than anybody else’s, but it struggles with reading and writing memory. It might be good to compare both yourself and see which one you find a better fit: they’re so similar that a lot of the time it’s just going to come down to taste.
If you want to get your VPS spun up as quickly as possible, EC2 has a number of turnkey system images: you can get them from AWS directly, go to the community, get one from the AWS marketplace or upload your own. There’s a huge number of options available; you can get almost any set of dependencies, if you look hard enough. If it’s still not absolutely perfect, you can then configure those instances to suit your particular needs.     
A lot of EC2 users have had a negative time with it, often citing an over complicated interface, a bevy of hidden charges and an opaque pricing model that makes it very hard to figure out what you’re actually doing or how much you’re actually paying. You can pay for support, which will clear up a lot of issues, but that’s another limiting cost factor. If you can get beyond those issues, it has a scope and power that are unmatched by anything else in the market.

The Last Word

I was careful to say at the start that this is about picking the right VPS for you. If you just want to know which is the most powerful, well, it’s AWS – the fact that they have more powerful options might only be relevant for large enterprise solutions. The main difference is their size: EC2 is a lumbering giant with every IaaS and PaaS service you could possibly imagine, while DO is a clean, cheap and easy-to-use program with simple features and 1-click deployments. While DigitalOcean is a more pleasant user experience, there’s a lot of things it just can’t do: it’s very good at its one job, but in terms of scale, power and versatility it is absolutely dwarfed by AWS.
If you’re a small business, new startup, or just somebody who wants to spin up a cheap VM, you want DigitalOcean. If you’ve got the budget and need to go big, go with EC2. Do you need a cheap and reliable VPS for your startup? DigitalOcean have got your back. Are you running a Fortune 500 company that needs to access petabytes of data per day? Maybe you should ask Amazon.
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