While cloud services providers like Amazon and Google have garnered a great deal of favor in enterprise markets, their byzantine billing systems makes using these services far from straightforward for small to medium businesses, developers working on their own projects, and users with more general computing resource needs.
However, the growing cloud virtual private server (VPS) market has a host of options that may fit their needs better. These cloud service providers offer the ability to quickly bring up servers (optionally, with preconfigured apps) while providing a better value for the money than Amazon and Google.
Although DigitalOcean was founded in 2011, they are a favorite of developers due to their extremely straightforward billing system and simple API. According to Netcraft, they are second only to Amazon EC2 in terms of web-facing computers.
DigitalOcean has data centers in New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Singapore, London, Frankfurt, Toronto, and Bangalore. Users have the option of Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Fedora, CoreOS, and FreeBSD, as well as dozens of deployable application images on top of Ubuntu 14.04, including content management software such as Drupal, Joomla, and MediaWiki, and NoSQL database packages Mongo, Cassandra, and Redis.
Of the nine available pricing tiers, DigitalOcean's entry-level offering provides 512 MB RAM and one processor core, combined with 20 GB SSD storage and 1 TB transfer for $5 per month. The company's most popular plan, though, provides 2 GB RAM, two processor cores, 40 GB SSD storage and 3 TB transfer for $20 per month. For all plans, automated weekly backups add 20% to the cost of the server instance. DigitalOcean also provides block storage for $0.10 per GB, per month.
Scaleway (a division of Online.net) is in a slightly different category. They offer microserver deployments in addition to standard VPS options, all from their facilities in Paris. Users have the option of Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, and Fedora (as with DigitalOcean), as well as OpenSUSE, Alpine Linux, Gentoo, or Arch. The available deployable images skew toward European software trends—while WordPress is available, Serendipity is as well. Other options that have gained more traction in Europe include Prestashop, Cozy, and Syncthing. Additionally, OpenVPN and Minecraft server image deployments are also available.
Scaleway's debut offering, the C1 ARM microserver, offers a quad-core ARMv7 CPU, 2 GB RAM, 50 GB of SSD storage, and a 200 Mbit/s unmetered internet connection for €2.99 per month ($3.33 USD). For those who prefer, or have dependencies on, x86-64, the VC1S VPS option provides the same specifications with 2 x86-64 CPU cores for €2.99 per month, with additional processor cores and RAM available in VC1M and VC1L packages.
In a price comparison with DigitalOcean's aforementioned "most popular" plan at $20/month, the dedicated "C2M" option provides 8 dedicated x86-64 CPU cores, 16 GB RAM, and 50 GB SSD, with 500 Mbit/sec unmetered internet connectivity for €17.99 ($20.00) per month. This is far more raw resources than what DigitalOcean provides—a DigitalOcean instance with eight CPU cores and 16 GB RAM is $160 per month. However, the connection bandwidth metering (rather than transfer metering) may be a significant downside for some.
Of particular interest and importance is Scaleway's block storage pricing. Storage is available in 50 GB units for €1 per month, each. Oddly, volumes are limited to a maximum size of 150 GB, though with a maximum of 15 volumes per server, a total of 2250 GB. Once again, this is a bargain compared to DigitalOcean.
Having launched in 2003, Linode is the senior player in this market. The company has four US datacenters, as well as facilities in London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Singapore. Linode supports much of the same Linux distributions previously mentioned, as well as Slackware (for some reason). Users willing to jump through a few hoops can install any custom distribution of their choice. Linode does not offer one-click application deployment, though their StackScripts repository is available to ease application deployment.
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While Linode does not have a VPS tier below $10, their available tiers are particularly competitive. As part of a celebration of their 13th year, the amount of RAM included in each tier was increased. The entry level tier offers a single x86-64 processor core, 2 GB RAM, 24 GB SSD, and 2 TB transfer, for $10 per month, and double all of those values (except transfer, which increases to 3 TB) for $20 per month. Backups add 25% to the cost of the server. For applications (particularly, databases) which have high memory requirements, Linode is a compelling option.
Relative to the three aforementioned VPS providers, Vultr's focus is on flexibility. The company offers the ability to use Windows Server, in addition to Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, CoreOS, and FreeBSD. It is also possible to upload an ISO of your favored distribution rather than use the available images. Vultur also has more data centers—instances can be deployed in Seattle, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, New Jersey, Chicago, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo, and Sydney.
While Linode's pricing structure offers more RAM compared to DigitalOcean, Vultr offers more SSD space on average. Vultur's $20 plan includes 5GB more storage than DigitalOcean, though the other specs are the same. Like DigitalOcean, block storage is available for $0.10 per GB, per month.
What's your view?
Do you use one of these providers? Do you prefer to stick with commercial scale providers like Amazon and Google for VPS hosting? Share your deployment strategies and experiences in the comments.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.