Digital Ocean

Digital Ocean focuses on selling unmanaged, Linux-based VPS (virtual private server) services and related add-ons. They are one of the first companies to offer top-notch, high-speed servers at rock bottom prices. And their prices are comparable to their closest competitors (Linode, Vultr)--although there are certain features and add-ons specific to each company.

However, Digital Ocean will not hold your hand and help you run your web site. They're only responsible for keeping their servers online. Customers are responsible for everything else--security, maintenance, troubleshooting, etc.

Tech geeks tend to downplay the learning curve for running a server. That's why I've written a free, comprehensive online tutorial for managing a Linux-based server.

You do not need to memorize everything there is to know about servers, you just need to have a broad understanding of how they work. Most of the difficult things that need to be done on a server can be accomplished by following a step-by-step tutorial. But you need to understand the basics for a tutorial to make any sense.

I recommend Digital Ocean (along with Vultr and Linode). But there are a few more things you may need to know.

What are Droplets?

A VPS is a virtual computer that resides on a physical computer (or a network of computers). "Droplet" is a term that Digital Ocean uses when referring to a droplet.

Features

Marketplace

Digital Ocean has a section they call "Marketplace," but the label is a bit misleading. The marketplace is simply a list of commonly used software that can be pre-installed on your Droplet.

You can setup a VPS with certain software pre-installed (e.g. WordPress, Ghost, cPanel), but you can only have one app pre-installed. You can't have multiple applications pre-installed on your server (which is a very frustrating limitation). Then again, most VPS/web hosting providers don't even offer the option of a single pre-installed app.

Full server backups.

Digital Ocean will backup everything on your server--files you have uploaded, software you installed, the OS itself...everything. However, for their backup service they charge an additional 10% of whatever the base plan costs. So if your Droplet costs $5 per month, automated backups will cost an additional 50 cents (i.e. 10% of $5).

Regions/Data Centers

All things being equal, the closer you are to a server, the faster it will respond to your requests. A server 2000 miles away is going to take a second or two longer to respond than a server that located in your city. If you expect most of your users/visitors to be located in a particular region, they'll benefit from accessing a server that's close to them.

Available Operating Systems

Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, CoreOS, FreeBSD

It doesn't really matter which OS you use. However, Ubuntu is the most popular server OS for general use, and it has the most software and tutorials.

API

Digital Ocean offers an API so you can programatically manage your account (deploy, resize, delete).

Other Services

Digital Ocean also offers many advanced services for people who understand (and have a need for) such things.

  • Load Balancer ($10 per month)

  • Kubernetes (starting at $10 per month)

  • Storage -- Attach a virtual drive to your VPS that can be resized as needed ($0.10/GB per month)

  • Managed Database Hosting -- MySQL, PostgreSQL Hosting* (starting at $15 per month)

*Note: You can run MySQL and PostgreSQL on any server. But complex databases with a lot of activity need to be properly managed and optimized in order to run smoothly. A managed database service offloads responsibility for something that can become very challenging in certain cases. (A run of the mill WordPress site would have no need for such a service.)

Billing

When using a service like Digital Ocean, you are not subscribing to a particular product. Instead, you can create multiple servers and upgrade (or downgrade) as much as you want. You are billed by the hour. So if you create a server Droplet and you only use it for an hour and then remove it...you are only charged for an hour of service ($0.007). At the end of the month, you credit card will be debited for the outstanding balance in your account.

Or you can PayPal or a credit card to deposit money ($10 and above) in your Digital Ocean account. Your balance will be debited from your deposit. Note: If you are using PayPal, you are required to deposit funds before you can use any of Digital Ocean's services.

CPU

This might be a bit confusing...

Digital Ocean and other VPS providers offer packages with varying CPU power. But it's not as if they have one (or multiple) physical CPU chips designated to each customer. Instead, companies use super power chips, much faster than most home computers. What"s more, they are using many chips collectively.

When you are running a Droplet, you are getting access to a pool of CPU power.

In order to simply things, Digital Ocean (and other companies) indicate CPU power by using the term "CPU" as if it were a unit of measurement.

For example, a basic Droplet for $5 will have "1 CPU." But a more advanced Droplet for $100 will have "8 CPU"--eight times more processing power than "1 CPU."

Someone running a WordPress site, even an ecommerce site with WooComerce, will only need "1 CPU." But if you want to do CPU-intensive things like converting video from one format to another, the more CPU power you have, the faster you can get things done.

Bottom-line: Most people only need "1 CPU." If you feel you need more, upgrade your account as you see appropriate.

Note: For regular blogs/online stores, there are many things you can do to optimize your web site so it can respond/load quickly.

Prices

The pricing page for Digital Ocean can be a bit overwhelming.

If you just want to get started hosting a web site, all you need is a Droplet.

Digital Oceans lists Droplets in four categories: Standard, General Purpose, CPU-Optimized, and Memory-optimized.

I don't understand why they further confuse things by having categories called "Standard" and "General Purpose"--as if there's an obvious difference.

Shared CPU

Basically "Standard" Droplets are using a shared CPU, meaning: you are competing for CPU access along with other shared CPU Droplets/VPSes. So there will be times when you may not be able to process data as quickly as expected. This isn't really a problem for ordinary web sites (e.g. blogs). But it can be a problem for complex sites likes forums, online stores, etc.

Dedicated

"General Purpose," "CPU-Optimized," and "Memory-optimized" Droplets have dedicated CPU access.

No matter what other VPSes are doing, you will always get the CPU power that was specified for the Droplet package you selected.

This is really important for high-demand web sites like forums, ecommerce and video sites that need to constantly process information.

Conclusion

Digital Ocean offers fast, dependable servers at very low prices. If you are willing to take responsibility for managing your own server, Digital Ocean is a great choice (along with Vultr and Linode).

Cloudways

If you want the power and reliability of Digital Ocean while also getting great tech support, you should consider Cloudways.

Basically Cloudways will deploy a VPS server on a provider you select (Digital Ocean, Vultr, etc.) and then manage it for you. They do not own (or have access to) to any physical servers. You register and pay on their web site. You have no direct involvement with the server provider. It's kind of like using one of those discount phone companies--there's a bigger company that built and manages the physical infrastructure (e.g. AT&T or whatever), but a smaller company rents access to that infrastructure at wholesale prices and then resells that service while offering customer service and tech support.

Cloudways handles setup, security, upgrades, etc. If you need help understanding or fixing an issue with your site, they will help you.