It wasn’t long ago that DigitalOcean was a small startup trying to fight its way into the crowded cloud infrastructure space lead by giants like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Now in 2016, after rounds and rounds well placed VC funding and massive network expansion, DigitalOcean is quickly becoming one of those giants. In fact, they are now the second largest hosting provider in the world, according to Netcraft. In April of this year the company received another $130 million in debt financing to help grow the network further and try to keep up with their meteoric customer growth.
DigitalOcean’s success primarily comes down to 2 factors; simplicity and cost. They are very developer-centric and allow small organizations to quickly and easily spin up an instance in under a minute without all the complexity that comes with an AWS or Azure. They have also gone very aggressive with their pricing, leading the cloud pricing wars in a race to zero over the past few years. But whatever they are doing it’s being received well, as they have already surpassed Google in the cloud space and are gaining ground on Amazon (although they are still a long way off on that one).
Linode’s back story is quite a bit different than that of DO. The company was founded back in 2003, making them one of the first VPS hosts in the world. Linode is a private company that has grown organically and stayed relevant in the cloud hosting space over their long 13 year lifespan. Inc Magazine named Linode one of the fastest growing private companies in the United States in 2011 and 2012. Linode has always focused more on simplicity, targeting SMBs and developers rather than trying to compete with AWS and Azure. In more recent years, the rise of startups like DigitalOcean seems to have kicked them into high gear as they have been investing large amounts of money into beefing up their infrastructure and slashing pricing, adding lower cost pricing tiers, and adding hourly billing. As of July 2016, their $10/mo price tier now includes 2GB RAM, twice that of DigitalOcean’s comparable plan.
DigitalOcean grew in popularity in much the same way that companies like CloudFlare did. By offering really simple up-front pricing and a friendly UI that makes the cloud more accessible to smaller companies or single developers. Pricing competition is fierce, but DigitalOcean consistently remains one of the cheapest options on the market even as competitors continue to drop rates. Their public pricing page shows you what you’ll pay based on server specs on an either hourly or monthly basis. Their most popular plan is the $10/mo tier which gets you 1GB RAM, 1 core processor, 30GB SSD and 2TB of transfer. The hourly rate comes out to $.015/hr.
Hourly pricing is relatively new in cloud hosting. For customers who choose this option every hour will cost a penny and a half, up to 272 hours per month.If you exceed that you pay the $10/month rate. For those with only the most basic needs DigitalOcean also offers a $5/mo plan, something that most competitors including Linode, do not. When it comes to bandwidth, DigitalOcean also does not currently charge for overages (but don’t expect this to last).
Outside of pricing, DigitalOcean has pushed the performance envelope by deploying high performance SSD servers throughout the network. This had them trashing the competition in 3rd party performance tests a few years ago but many of their competitors, Linode included, followed suit and closed the gap since then.
In terms of feature offering and compatibility, DigitalOcean is still pretty far behind the big dogs. DO is still a Linux only shop and you won’t find Windows or Unix options when you spin up a droplet. They do integrate easily with all the most common apps including; WordPress, LAMP, Docker, and Ruby on Rails, but they are still nowhere near the compatibility of competitors like AWS, Azure, or even Linode. But not everyone needs all the bells and whistles (and the increased complexity that comes with them). For many, a 99.99% uptime SLA, a sub-1 minute setup time, and a $5/mo droplet make DigitalOcean an easy choice.
Linode is an industry veteran, entering the market in 2003 (nearly 10 years before DigitalOcean). Their platform is not nearly as broad as providers like AWS and Azure, but they are significantly ahead of DigitalOcean in terms of feature set.
Recently, Linode has revamped their company image and pricing model to be more competitive with companies like DigitalOcean. They do not offer a $5/mo bare-bones plan, but their entry level $10/mo ($.015/hr) pricing tier now gives customers 2GB RAM, 1 core, 24GB SSD, and 2TB of transfer. That’s twice as much memory as DigitalOcean for the same price. Up until recently, DigitalOcean has dominated the low-end while Linode has had the better offering for heavier users. With this new pricing adjustment, it is clear that Linode is going after DigitalOcean’s sweet spot. That said, Linode does charge $.10/GB for bandwidth once a customer has hit their transfer limit, so be careful which plan you choose. Customers exceeding their limits would be smart to integrate a CDN like CloudFlare to offload bandwidth from their host (and improve performance).
While Linode only has 8 availability zones, they have invested quite a bit into their existing data centers in the past few years, mostly in the form of high performance SSD servers, 40Gbps network capacity, and Intel E5 processors. Even with 8 data centers (nearly half as many as DigitalOcean) they have good global coverage with locations in Newark, Dallas, Atlanta, Fremont, Frankfurt, London, Singapore, and Tokyo.
Like DigitalOcean, Linode will run Ubuntu and most other Linux OS. Unlike DigitalOcean, you will have to swap CoreOS for something like Slackware, Gentoo, or Arch Linux. You also have the ability to install custom distros, a key feature that DigitalOcean still does not have. Going beyond the basics, Linode really starts to pull ahead when it comes to add-on features. Some of the most popular include StackScripts, Two-factor Authentication, DNS Manager, Images and Cloning. They certainly aren’t at the level of the behemoths like AWS yet, but they are far ahead of DigitalOcean in this arena.
One of the reasons for this review is Linode’s recent pricing changes at their entry level plan. It is pretty clear that they are going after DigitalOcean customers by offering 2X the memory at the same price point. DigitalOcean still offers a bit more storage, but everything else is pretty comparable. Linode also rolled out hourly pricing, which was likely sparked by competitors like DO and Vultr doing the same. Below are the specs of Linode’s and DigitalOceans $10/mo price tiers:
|Memory||2 GB||1 GB|
|Processor||1 Core||1 Core|
|Storage||24 GB SSD||30 GB SSD|
|Transfer||2 TB||2 TB|
|Overage||$0.02 / GB||$0.02 / GB|
|Network In||40 Gbps||1 Gbps|
|Network Out||125 Mbps||1 Gbps|
|Price||$10 / month||$10 / month|
|$0.015 / hour||$0.015 / hour|
Here you can see DigitalOcean’s most popular monthly pricing plans (as of August 2016):
And here we have Linode’s updated pricing schedule:
As you can see, Linode is now offering twice the RAM as DigitalOcean at most pricing tiers. But that isn’t the only metric that matters. DigitalOcean generally offers more storage, and for the time being, does not charge for excess outbound bandwidth.
As mentioned earlier, Lindode has been pumping quite a bit of resources into their network infrastructure as of late, and 3rd party performance testing seems to show it paying off. Below you can see Linode vs DigitalOcean at both the $10 and $20/mo price point. As you can see, Linode has a pretty significant advantage in response time, especially at the $10/mo tier. DigitalOcean beats out Linode in CPU at the $20/mo tier, but only slightly.
*performance data from VPSbenchmarks.com
We haven’t had enough personal experience with Linode or DigitalOcean’s support to give a valid review, but based on user data available on the public internet, Linode seems to get the ‘W’ in this category. DigitalOcean is known for having excellent documentation, but they do not offer phone support and email response times can be slow. This is somewhat expected due to the sheer number of customers they have brought on in just a few short years.
Linode support, on the other hand, is generally praised by their customers. They offer 24×7 support via phone, email, and chat.
So which VPS is best for your needs? That all depends.
DigitalOcean is seeing the fastest growth in the cloud infrastructure industry primarily due to one thing: simplicity. Their pricing, user interface, and setup process are second to none in this facet. And with plans starting at $5/month, the service is accessible to just about everyone on earth.
Linode, on the other hand, has not seen the meteoric growth of DigitalOcean but is a trusted industry veteran with a newly revamped brand and pricing structure. When considering feature set, performance, and now pricing, Linode appears to be a cut ahead of DigitalOcean in most aspects. Some users may still prefer DigitalOcean’s UI over Linode (and no bandwidth restriction doesn’t hurt) but Linode simply offers a faster, cheaper, and more complete service than DigitalOcean at this time.