Chances are, if you’re shopping for a virtual private server, you already understand why they’re useful for web developers, app designers and everyone in between. You also probably know that the surge in popularity of hourly pricing means you can try most of the big players in this space for yourself for the cost of one Bazooka Joe comic (not even the gum, just the comic). Hopefully you’ve had time to peruse our other comparisons featuring today’s combatants and a few of your other relevant choices.
In the not so distant past, it was commonplace to refer to DigitalOcean as a plucky underdog - a company with a long way to go. Well, Ben Uretsky and crew must be quick learners. In December, DigitalOcean received $50M to fund further expansion which, given their very recent addition of a data center in London and more than $37M in funding from this past March, makes them almost comically successful by any measure. To hear them tell it, the main reason for such a meteoric rise is their intense focus on developers. Their progressively inexpensive pricing structure certainly hasn’t hurt matters, either. But whatever the reason, DigitalOcean is one of the big fish now, having surpassed the likes of Google to become the 3rd largest hosting company in the world.
Linode’s path to prominence has been a stark contrast to DigitalOcean’s. Founded back in the relative Dark Ages of 2003, Christopher Aker’s company has been a relevant player in the world of virtual hosting since, well, virtual hosting has been a thing. But ironically, if not for the increased competition from newcomers like DigitalOcean, Linode might have stagnated. It takes a lot of resources to compete with tech behemoths like Amazon and Microsoft, but even with gobs of cash, those companies have such broad offerings that they are operating in a different market altogether. Watching DigitalOcean in the rearview mirror must have lit a fire under Linode, because the last year has seen the venerable company slash prices across the board, add more economical tiers, incorporate hourly billing, and reinvest in its hardware.
DigitalOcean began to make waves due at least in part to its super simple and affordable pricing. As we will note in the Linode breakdown, that advantage has eroded somewhat in the intervening months, but nevertheless you can find great value up and down DigitalOcean’s range. Their pricing page makes it easy to see what your bill will look like whether you will spin up a droplet for a few hours or months at a time. Their most popular plan will run you $.015/hr for 1GB RAM, 1 core processor, 30GB SSD and 2TB of transfer.
If you’re unfamiliar with this pricing model, essentially it means that every hour will cost you a penny and a half, up to 272 hours per month. After that, you simply pay the monthly price of $10. If that seems cheap, it’s because it is. Additional memory, processing power and space will cost you more as you go along, and DigitalOcean can accommodate some very high volume users. But if you’re willing to ask a little less of your virtual machine, DigitalOcean will slash the price all the way down to $.007/hr and $5/mo, which is so insanely cheap I don’t know why everyone doesn’t have one. $5 is not very much money. You probably can’t even buy four dollars for $5 nowadays. Last week I saw a guy drop a $5 bill and he tried to pick it up by throwing another $5 bill at it. They both blew away, and he didn’t even blink. Hey pal, that could be two months of a private server!
When it comes to DigitalOcean’s billing what you see is what you get. For now, at least. Currently, DigitalOcean is not charging for bandwidth overages. Unfortunately, that means there’s no built-in way to monitor your bandwidth if you want to do that for any reason -- though 3rd party methods like vnStat are compatible. Eventually, additional bandwidth (excluding traffic on DigitalOcean’s private network) will cost $.02/GB for every gig you use over your cap. But for now, you’re unlimited! So go wild!
DigitalOcean didn’t stop at pushing the cloud pricing envelope. Their insistence on the increased performance and reliability of SSDs forced competitors to play catch-up, and for good reason. This test from 2013 shows how even two years ago DigitalOcean’s SSD servers were blowing away the competition: a pair of heavyweight incumbents in Amazon Web Services and Rackspace. But this advantage has eroded over time as well. Unfortunately, if you’re a trendsetter, eventually you set all the trends.
However, not everything DigitalOcean does spreads like wildfire. Their developer-focused and relatively narrow approach may have made them relevant and buried a few competitors along the way, but compatibility and adaptability are the games most other providers are playing. Though CoreOS was just added in September to the usual Linux suspects -- Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS and Debian -- Linux is where your options end. You won’t find Windows or Unix flavors on the setup page when you spin up a DigitalOcean droplet. You may find the app integrations lacking, or you may not; Docker, Ghost, LAMP, Ruby on Rails, Wordpress and more are all present and accounted for. No matter what, you can appreciate DigitalOcean’s commitment to improving their offerings: The last six months alone have seen them roll out a new API, a revamped DNS and expanded IPv6 support. With a 99.99% uptime SLA and a 55 second startup time, you should have plenty of time to play around.
Linode has a slightly different perspective on the world of virtual private servers, having entered the market way back in 2003. While their product line is not as robust as a “full-featured” cloud provider like Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon, it does have a breadth of services that DigitalOcean has not come close to matching.
The differing approaches of the two companies are epitomized in their pricing. Linode has foregone the bargain basement $5/mo offering, and instead starts newbies out with a $10/mo ($.015/hr) 1GB RAM, single core, 24GB SSD, 2TB transfer plan that sounds very familiar to DigitalOcean users. Low-end to moderate users won’t find much to gripe about between the two companies’ provisions, the differences mostly amounting to a gig here or a core there, but Linode really steps up their game for heavy users, in some cases matching DigitalOcean’s capacity several times over. But make sure you pick the right plan! Linode is a bit stingier with bandwidth overages, charging $.10/GB once you’ve hit your limit (excluding in-bound traffic).
In Q2 2014, Linode used a $45M investment to improve its hardware and gain a larger foothold in the enterprise market as a full-fledged IaaS (Infrastructure as a service) provider. That mostly came in the way of updating disk drives and networking structures, since Linode has not expanded into a new datacenter region since 2011. The six they do have are located very well, however, with established presences in Tokyo, London, Newark, Atlanta, Dallas and Fremont, California.
Linode, too, will generally run your favorite flavor of Linux (Ubuntu, most likely, if the stats are any indication). A Linode user will have to swap CoreOS compatibility for Slackware, Gentoo, openSUSE, Slackware or Arch Linux, however. Happily, Linode adds even more functionality by allowing for the installation of custom distros, a feature that DigitalOcean users will have to go without.
It may be difficult, but try not to get too excited counting up Linode’s feature advantages in this competition; feeling like a kid in a candy store doesn’t really make much sense now that we all just get 40 flavors of Pocky delivered to our doors for ten bucks a month. You want those analytics we were talking about earlier? Try Longview. Need load balancing? If you’ve got a crisp Andrew Jackson every 30 days or so, Linode wants to sell you NodeBalancers. What if you just feel like sitting back and watching someone else do all the work while you try to find “rare Mountain Dew” on eBay, for whatever reason? Managed Hosting and Professional Services have got you covered. Linode has done a great job filling out its product line beyond mere servers; there really is something here for everyone.
Linode may be targeting Amazon and the other (very) big boys with its recent brand reimagining, but their most dangerous competitor has been in their backyard the entire time. DigitalOcean is trying to fill the same niche and please the same core audience. Right now, at least volume-wise, they’re doing it more successfully, too. But that’s big picture. The question is: which should you choose for your VPS needs?
Both companies have a lot to offer with a lot of overlap between them. DigitalOcean is incredibly simple with just enough of what most users need to get by, whereas Linode has a good deal more on offer, but strives for simplicity and ease-of-use as well. Linode is at the head of the pack with its brand spanking new infrastructure and clutch datacenter locations. DigitalOcean is just a few miles away in London, New York and San Francisco, and they’re more or less responsible for the Great Price War and SSD Revolution. Neither company will let you put together a custom package, so if you can’t figure out which has an instance that’s right for you, maybe neither one does. In the end, you should decide what you’re looking for first–connectivity, a full suite of add-ons, a cheap rabbit hole to fiddle with–then spin something up and try it out. You’ll only be out a few cents, after all, and whatever you learn will be worth more than that.
For an overview and comparison of cloud service providers, check out our cloud service provider roundup.