On November 30th, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a new service called "Lightsail" which promises to deliver easy Virtual Private Servers (VPS) at predictable costs.
AWS has been the leader in on-demand computing resources for a decade. They pioneered the space, and have by far the largest footprint when it comes to both customers, available regions, and revenue, which is on track to reach $13 Billion this year, according to a report by Business Insider. In the last 5 years however, DigitalOcean has had incredible success by selling to a different market, the individual developer. Making it easier to go from idea to deployment at a low cost, without navigating the confusing AWS control panel, while at the same time having access to an extremely active community. This move by Amazon appears to be a direct attack on DigitalOcean and the success they have had making cloud servers easier for hobbyists, developers, and small businesses to launch and manage. In this post we will dig in to both services and do a comparison on the available features, billing, pricing, and advantages of one over the other. I feel like we'll probably have to talk about what constitutes "VPS vs. Cloud" as well. We'll also dig in to how choosing a simple interface and manual server management now can hurt down the road as a project or business grows and your infrastructure needs to scale.
Developers, developers, developers.
It generally looks something like this:
AWS totally missed the mark when trying to appeal to this niche, until today. With the creation of Lightsail it appears that Amazon wants to keep more developers on an Amazon only stack and cut into DigitalOcean's profits.
The physical servers powering Lightsail are the same ones you'd be accessing if you were using the AWS EC2 instance launch wizard. They reskinned what they already have powering their massive cloud to appeal to a different kind of customer.
Lightsail is a subset of existing AWS features that are presented in a way that makes it easy to get going for those users who don't require any of the shiny things and gizmos provided by full blown AWS. You're not forced to learn about VPC's, subnets, security groups, and choosing every last detail of the configuration of the server you are going to launch. Instead the workflow is designed to get users to go from 0 to launched server in as little time as possible.
With that being said, all of the advanced features of AWS are available to servers launched via Lightsail by implementing VPC peering.
Many users have expressed disdain for AWS over their often confusing pricing and "hidden charges". This confusion is the prime reason that DigitalOcean was able to gain so much traction so quickly. A huge number of users are overwhelmed by the varying hourly costs for server instances, ip addresses, bandwidth, and storage in AWS, so much so that it has spurred the creation of AWS billing analytics companies like Cloudability and CloudHealth. For that very reason, and because of getting burned in the past from unexpected charges when utilizing AWS, many users moved to DigitalOcean where they were guaranteed not to exceed the monthly spend they chose.
While Lightsail appears to be offering flat rate charges in line with what DigitalOcean is offering, some folks are skeptical about how variable costs like I/O and network bandwidth usage could still push monthly charges beyond what is quoted on the pricing page.
Interestingly (but not surprisingly), Amazon has set their initial Lightsail pricing to be almost exactly what DigitalOcean is offering. The only points of differentiation on pricing tip in DigitalOcean's favor when it comes to the $20 and $80 per month instance sizes, where you get twice the CPU power on DigitalOcean that you get with Lightsail.Monthly Price Provider RAM CPUs Disk Space Data Transfer $5 Lightsail 512MB 1 20GB SSD 1TB DigitalOcean 512MB 1 20GB SSD 1TB $10 Lightsail 1GB 1 30GB SSD 2TB DigitalOcean 1GB 1 30GB SSD 2TB $20 Lightsail 2GB 1 40GB SSD 3TB DigitalOcean 2GB 2 40GB SSD 3TB $40 Lightsail 4GB 2 60GB SSD 4TB DigitalOcean 4GB 2 60GB SSD 4TB $80 Lightsail 8GB 2 80GB SSD 5TB DigitalOcean 8GB 4 80GB SSD 5TB
Does your VPS provider have an API for interacting with it, hourly pricing, and some value-add services like floating IPs or DNS? Congratulations, it's a cloud.
My point here is that DigitalOcean started as something resembling a VPS provider calling itself a simple cloud. I think this helped to attract customers who were burned by bad experiences with "VPS providers". As they have added tons of new features like block storage, floating IPs, and DNS, it really is far beyond a VPS provider, it's a cloud. Lightsail is a huge cloud provider, in a simplicity disguise, calling itself a VPS to appeal to smaller users.
It doesn't matter what it's called, it's the same thing.
Choosing to avoid server and deployment automation, and instead opting to manually manage individual servers, is something that folks commonly do when they're just starting out with a project or business. That is not necessarily a bad decision, especially if it works for you and you enjoy working that way.
It can potentially hurt down the line when you suddenly need to figure out how to take your project running on one or two servers, and turn it into a scalable distributed system running on many more. You'll need to dive head first into the wonderfully complicated and ever-changing world of cloud and deployment automation tools and open source software. Get your bottle of glue code ready, you will need it.
With this move by Amazon however, it is possible to start out on a simple cloud/VPS provider, and slowly add on more advanced AWS tools and databases, without having to make a major shift to a completely different hosting provider down the line. That is an important option that customers need to consider when deciding where to initially deploy their infrastructure.
It's a crazy world out there in the cloud hosting space. I'm sure we are going to see a lot more announcements soon from both camps when it comes to maintaining pricing and feature parity with each other.
Want the ease of use of a VPS provider or simple cloud, running on any cloud provider you choose, with full continuous deployment support for teams? We added support for Lightsail in ContainerShip Cloud. Launch your first cluster for free to give it a try. Easily deploy from your git repos, directly to any cloud provider. Snapshot, restore, and migrate between providers with ease. Collaborate with team members, and be highly available and scalable from day one.