When we talk about cloud providers many people think about the big three, Google’s Compute, Amazon’s AWS, and Microsoft’s Azure. While these are powerful services, they are generally complicated, and can be expensive. In some cases pricing may as well be written in hieroglyphics. There is relief for those of us who only need the basics, and value simplicity, enter cloud servers.
Cloud servers are the new iteration of what we knew as VPS (Virtual Private Servers), but greatly improved. These systems run on a cloud platform, and are generally cheaper than traditional VPS providers. Cloud servers also offer many add-on services and features that are invaluable to the busy developer. The cloud server companies that I looked at offer low, per hour, pricing. They also offer instant server creation/destruction and simple interfaces. I narrowed it down to 2 competitors, Digital Ocean vs Vultr, and both are great services.
Digital Ocean has been around for a while, and took the approach of simple, affordable cloud VPS, with detailed hourly billing. They offer cloud servers starting at ~$.007/HR (or $5/mo). They advertise that you can spin up a new server in just 55 seconds, and this claim is for the most part accurate. The servers run on a custom stack with KVM at the base, and they run smoothly. I ran one for 8 months with 1 crash (and that was my fault, 512mb of ram only goes so far), and really didn’t have any issues. One thing worth noting is that DO does not support Windows. If you use exclusively Linux, this wont be a problem for you, but it is definitely something worth taking into account.
Their control panel is simple and intuitive, with a very clean interface. They have outstanding customer support, and are just generally pleasant to work with. I would call Digital Ocean beginner friendly, I believe a novice could easily figure out how to setup most any common configuration simply by a visit to the DO community. They have done a great job of creating a product that is functional, looks good, and has a large community backing it.
Some of the more advanced features that Digital Ocean touts are full IPv6 Capability (16 usable addresses), Hosted DNS, Floating IP’s (free if actually used, small fee if reserved but unused), “private” networking, extra cloud storage, one click applications, and the ability to create live snapshots (images of your hard disk for backup, or to use as a template for other servers). Digital ocean also touts a very robust and, well thought out API (to launch servers from your app, etc). One feature that they have that sets them apart from the competition is easy load balancing. The feature, advanced users. is easily setup right through the control panel.
Pros: Excellent Control Panel, Extensive Community, Excellent Support, More “One Click Apps”, Really Good API.
Cons: No Windows Support, No custom ISO’s, Only takes credit cards.
At first glance it seems like Vultr simply took the model from Digital Ocean and opened up their own shop. Both companies are running on a similar base platform, offer a similar base product, and offer similar pricing and billing. Where Vultr differentiates itself is in additional features. They have 15 data centers in 8 countries, and they have locations in Australia and Japan. Unlike Digital Ocean, Vultr will allow you to bring your own custom ISO. They support both Linux and Windows, and offer Windows ISOs, for an extra fee.
Vultr’s entry-level server has similar specs to Digital Ocean’s, but, it is only $2.50/mo. The Vultr Control Panel is not as well designed as Digital Ocean’s but is functional and certainly not bad. Another feature found here that sets them apart from Digital Ocean is that they allow you to store your startup scripts, so you can reuse them later. Many of Vultr’s advanced features mirror those of Digital Ocean, IPv6 (usable /64), “private” networking, hosted DNS, floating IP’s (currently $3/mo), free* snapshots and block storage, few one click apps, and a robust API.
(*currently 50 GB free, I doubt this will last.)
One place you do sacrifice with Vultr is in disk space and transfer, you will get a bit less than Digital Ocean. In general they give you enough to manage most projects, and their overage fees are quite reasonable. Another place where you sacrifice here is in the community and support areas. Although they are making progress, and do have extensive “VultrDocs” available, they are somewhat lacking when compared to Digital Ocean. I really don’t recommend them for beginners.
Pros – Custom Images Allowed, Supports Windows, takes Paypal and Bitcoin.
Cons – Not as beginner friendly, Community not as robust, Not as generous with disk and bandwidth.
Both of these services offer terrific value for the money. Most of my servers are with Vultr because I occasionally do projects that need custom ISOs. Overall you also get more server for your money. From a pricing standpoint i would really have to recommend Vultr, if you don’t need the support or more advanced features. If you are a beginner, and need a lot of support, you might find a slightly better experience over at Digital Ocean. Honestly, you can’t go wrong either way. If you are still not sure, ach service offers a free trial. So you can spin up a server or 2 and see which you like better.
Wable is a newcomer with 3 data centers, all in the USA ( East, West, and Central). On their entry level plan (running about $4.32/mo) they are offering 1GB of RAM. They are also running 3.2 GHZ CPU’s (vs Digital Ocean and Vultr at 2.4 GHZ) . Their control panel is nice, and their customer support is good.
One issue here is they have some limitations on how you can use their service. One example is that you cannot send more than 300 emails per month from your server. This would only be an issue if you were trying to run a mail server, or a mailing list. They just don’t feel ready for prime time. They don’t hide this though. In their terms of service they allude to being geared more towards recreational or non-power users. I feel like they are an up and comer though, so I’m keeping my eyes on them.
Update 10/2/2017: Updated for clarity. also updated the most current features of each company.