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How AWS compares to DigitalOcean cloud services

How does DigitalOcean compete with AWS? We dig into the IaaS provider to see where it matches AWS and where it has an edge over the public cloud giant.

Amazon Web Services cloud offers services to meet a range of customers’ needs, from developers working on a single...

server to enterprise IT applications running complex stacks on distributed systems. Alternatively, DigitalOcean focuses solely on cloud developers. Here's a look at how DigitalOcean differs from AWS and some of its advantages. Offering developers rapid access to servers designed for speed, DigitalOcean maintains provisioning of under one minute, lower IO latency with SSD drives, private networking and APIs for managing images, domains, droplets (VM instances), SSH keys and other cloud environment objects.

The cloud service makes it easy to perform common administration operations from the API. For example, developers can quickly start new instances from a master image. To do this, create a new droplet -- which is DigitalOcean's term for a VM instance -- that's configured with any packages developers want in the child droplets. After making a snapshot of the droplet using either the control panel or the API, use the image IDs to create new snapshots with the same configurations as the master. Developers can add settings to child snapshots while creating them. For example, you can send user data to droplets as they are created.

DigitalOcean cloud lacks some built-in services that AWS has, such as messaging and database services. While such services are aimed more at admins, developers occasionally need enterprise-level functionality like auto scaling. DigitalOcean's documentation describes a simple script that uses the DOAPI and a HAProxy server to automatically scale resources up or down, as needed.

The DOProxy Ruby script stores droplets on the HAProxy load balancer and is managed using a command-line interface. DOProxy enables developers to create and delete droplets and manage the list of droplets. Short command-line actions facilitate the creation and deletion of droplets; to delete a droplet you need the line number of that droplet.

DigitalOcean cloud security features

While AWS offers a full-featured identity management service, DigitalOcean provides a basic authentication service based on OAuth. After registering an application with OAuth, developers receive a client ID and client secret. The client secret is used to communicate between the app and authentication server.

The OAuth API enables basic user authorization links and access tokens. Developers can contact Digital Ocean authentication servers to revoke or create new tokens at any time; if a token is revoked, it is permanently disabled. Access tokens can also be set as either having "read" or "read write" access, allowing for a bit of extra control over user access.

OS support, pricing and portability

DigitalOcean offers popular Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, CoreOS and FreeBSD; it does not support Microsoft Windows. The DigitalOcean cloud environment also offers ready-to-deploy applications, including Docker, Django, MongoDB, Node.js, WordPress and others.

There are two pricing structures for DigitalOcean's cloud service: simple and high volume. Simple pricing plans range from $5 per month to $80 per month with 512 MB and 8 GB of memory, 1 TB to 5 TBs of transfers, 20 GB to 80 GBs of storage and single core to 4 core CPUs. High-volume plans run between $160 and $640 per month, offering 16 GB to 64 GB of memory, 6 TB to 9 TB of transfers, 160 GB to 640 GB of storage and 8 to 20 core processors. All plans use SSD storage and can be priced at an hourly rate.

The DigitalOcean cloud service does not directly compete with AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform. Developers working on Linux-based platforms will find it offers competitively priced, high-performance VMs that require minimal administrative overhead. But the cloud service isn't right for all companies. If you're looking for platform as a service functionality, such as Amazon Relational Database Service, DigitalOcean is not the right option. For developers who want the benefits of both DigitalOcean and AWS or Google, consider using Docker for lightweight containers that allow you to migrate applications from DigitalOcean to another IaaS provider.

Next Steps

Looking beyond the Big Three in IaaS

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IaaS vendors gun for AWS

This was last published in May 2015

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