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VPS service provider showdown pits DigitalOcean vs. AWS

DigitalOcean carved out an early niche among customers running simple, light cloud workloads. Amazon Lightsail could pose a serious threat to DigitalOcean's VPS business.

Public cloud providers are known for providing flexible on-demand computing and storage for IT departments of all...

sizes. But not all cloud customers need high elasticity, scalability and complexity. Some smaller businesses want simplicity, ease of use and, most importantly, low prices from a cloud services provider.

Some smaller enterprises turn to virtual private server (VPS) service providers for managed internet-hosted VM. A VPS service provider manages infrastructure, enabling customers to focus on application management. VPS has four main hardware specifications: CPU, RAM, storage as HDD space and bandwidth.

VPS services are usually quite inexpensive, sometimes just a few dollars per month. They also include regular backup and security policies, so developers could use them in production for smaller workloads.

But there are drawbacks. Hosting companies can run multiple VPS instances on a single server, sharing hardware with other companies. That means customers face performance limitations with a VPS provider.

Understand the VPS landscape

Until recently, DigitalOcean established itself as a leader in the VPS service provider market.  But AWS threatens to steal a large piece of the market share with very similar offerings.

Until recently, DigitalOcean established itself as a leader in the VPS service provider market. But AWS threatens to steal a large piece of the market share with very similar offerings.

DigitalOcean established itself as a simple cloud computing platform back in 2011, going after customers that prefer an easy-to-run cloud. The hosting company has data centers all over the globe -- its cloud infrastructure enables customers to automate and manage infrastructure with features such as solid state disk storage, a control panel, floating IP addresses, shared private networks and team accounts. It's also considered a leader among VPS providers.

Fast forward to AWS re:invent 2016. AWS released Amazon Lightsail, making its move into the VPS service provider market. Amazon Lightsail also offers five packages that are similar to DigitalOcean's offerings, but are designed for different workloads and requirements. Some industry professionals see Lightsail as a direct competitor to DigitalOcean, which raises concern over the viability of the smaller cloud service provider.

Let's get into the details comparing each VPS side by side.

DigitalOcean vs. AWS

On the surface, Lightsail and DigitalOcean are very similar, which can make it difficult to choose one over the other. Amazon designed Lightsail to compete directly with each VPS product DigitalOcean had to offer. When it comes to service specifications, Lightsail and DigitalOcean are almost identical, and the pricing is also very similar.

Amazon offers a fixed price if the business stays within its limits, while Lightsail offers a free, one-month trial of the lowest-cost VPS, which normally runs about five dollars a month. DigitalOcean offers nine pricing tiers with escalating amounts of RAM, CPU and storage.

Lightsail users can choose from Amazon Linux or Ubuntu for an OS; several different technology stacks, such as Node, MEAN and LAMP; and a couple of pre-installed applications, such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Magento. With DigitalOcean, the user can select from six pre-deployed OSes: Ubuntu, Debian, CoreOS, CentOS, Fedora and FreeBSD. DigitalOcean supports the same technology stacks as Lightsail, but adds MediaWiki and Discourse to the list. And, with DigitalOcean, users can choose between MongoDB, Cassandra and Django, among other applications.

Lightsail also offers several add-on features, including:

  • AWS infrastructure. Lightsail relies on AWS data centers in 42 global availability zones. The service also benefits from AWS' security and compliance tools, and is protected by 99.95% uptime and a service-language agreement.
  • Integration with AWS. Lightsail is compatible with most popular AWS tools. For example, if SysOps only wants to run an application in Lightsail, but still wants a managed database, Lightsail can integrate with Amazon Relational Database Service. Lightsail also integrates with Amazon Simple Storage Service for block storage and Amazon CloudFront for content delivery. And admins can establish credentials and roles through AWS Identity and Access Management. Teams can also use AWS CloudWatch to access AWS metrics and monitor an environment.
  • Scalability. Because it's a burstable Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instance, Lightsail easily migrates to higher-power EC2 instances. AWS maintains snapshots with Elastic Block Store technology, so it's easy to provision new Lightsail VPS or EC2 instances from the original data or to create a disaster recovery solution.

When it comes to DigitalOcean vs. AWS, the former option has the advantage of its integrated community, established brand awareness with years of experience in the VPS service provider market, support and some minor technical improvements over Lightsail, such as supported operating systems and pre-installed applications. But Amazon could try to match or exceed DigitalOcean when it comes to those features.

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Businesses that rely on DigitalOcean and don't expect to need the complexity of the AWS public cloud might find DigitalOcean best fits their needs. If a business' needs outgrow shared hosting capacities and it's considering VPS as a next step, Lightsail and Digital Ocean are both viable options.

Lightsail's strengths are the underlying Amazon infrastructure, integration with the entire range of AWS tools and services and an easy upgrade path if the VPS grows larger than a small-scale workload. Lightsail's tie-in with AWS gives it a distinct advantage in compliance capabilities, deployment in nearby regions and the ability to accommodate future growth. If your business expects to grow beyond the power of VPS services, Lightsail might be a better option than DigitalOcean.

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