Cloud computing technology becomes a standard when talking about developing applications nowadays. A few years ago, companies were enforced to have dedicated teams for configuring, running and maintaining server rooms which made it extremely difficult to scale up easily and offer a sustainable product. For small startups, it was even more difficult due to the lack of human resource as well as funding.
In present days, not only there are cloud computing technologies for almost every architecture you might imagine, but the cloud vendors also compete nonstop about our (the developers) attention. Most of the largest tech companies, like Google, Amazon and IBM launched cloud services in the past few years. They advertise, offer free tiers, present in tech conferences and conduct free-of-charge workshops for experiencing with their cloud solutions. They are aware that once you fall in love with their services, it will most likely be your favorite choice in every project for years to come.
So what is a cloud provider anyway? A cloud provider is an entity that offers cloud services for operating your application. Operating may include running servers, serving your application, hosting static files, providing database solutions, handling networking between servers, managing DNS and much more. Different cloud vendors offer different levels of abstractions in their services, usually defined as IaaS vs. PaaS.
IaaS, or infrastructure-as-a-service, refers to a low-level solution, like providing a Linux Ubuntu server with nothing installed on it. This kind of solutions is suitable for more advanced developers who have experience with designing, configuring and securing servers infrastructure in all aspects. IaaS services provide you with flexibility and scalability down the road, and this will most likely be the way to go when designing application for scale. This approach requires, as already mentioned before, at least one developer in your startup who has this skill-set, otherwise, your product will turn into a big mess sooner than later.
PaaS, or platform-as-a-service, refers to a fully-maintained and managed environment that is hidden under a layer of abstraction you should not even care of. The cloud vendor takes care of maintaining the servers needed for the operations for you, and you get high-level databases for storing your data, services for user authentication, endpoints for client side applications etc. This approach is much easier and faster to get up and running with, and typically satisfies most of the basic applications. You should take into consideration though, that for more complex architectures it might not be enough.
Generally speaking, both IaaS and PaaS are huge time-savers when dealing with deploying and serving applications. You are able to run a server with a click-of-a-button and usually pay per use. Scaling your servers can be done manually or even automatically using APIs when a peak in traffic suddenly occurs. You can be sure that you’re in a good company (as long as you choose wisely) and whatever you can imagine, you can basically create.
cloud providers list
In early-stage startups, using cloud computing technologies became a standard because of the flexibility, the pricing models and the accessibility. Choosing the best cloud service for your startup is an essential task every technological entrepreneur must perform. As the head of development in your company, you should know the differences between the main alternatives, and choose the one that suits your product best.
Technical debts may stack up in a case of a bad decision. In addition, migrating an entire architecture from one cloud provider to another is not considered to be a trivial task at all. Therefore, you should be able to know the differences, experiment with each of the main alternatives and make a wise decision.
After examining and experiencing the best cloud providers out there:
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) — try with free tier
- Google Cloud
- DigitalOcean — try with $10 credit
- Microsoft Azure
- IBM Cloud
and using them in a wide variety of project, I’ll take my top two: AWS and DigitalOcean and compare them using a set of parameters.
I’ve chosen these two cloud providers to be my best choice after grading each of them using the most important parameters when building a startup from the ground up:
- Features (offering) — how wide is the range of available cloud computing technologies, integrations and possibilities for the next generations of your application. In order to build for scale, you need to be sure that a cloud vendor can support your application for years to come.
- Pricing — Available pricing models, free tiers for startups and pricing transparency. Early-stage startups (startups that fund themselves) look for the largest value possible in the lowest price.
- Ease of use — How fast an intermediate developer can build a basic cloud architecture and deploy his application, How easy is it to iterate over the existing cloud architecture and what about the learning curve for beginners.
- Tutorials and support — Availability of online resources to help you get up and running with different services, as well as human customer support accessibility.
Three, two, one, fight!
How wide is the range of services offered?
Amazon Web Services: AWS has by far the widest range of services and it comes to offerings. If you don’t find a cloud computing technology under AWS manifest, you’ll most likely not find it anywhere else. AWS has many different IaaS and PaaS services dedicated to every task needed to be performed by a server, divided into organized categories. When using AWS you can be sure that your startup scalability is potentially endless. On the other hand, the offering might sometimes be confusing for beginners as it makes the getting started process a little longer. If your application has many custom components that are not trivial, AWS might be the cloud provider you should consider.
DigitalOcean: DigitalOcean offers a relatively narrow range of services. As for IaaS, you can find droplets (servers), data storage units, networking and monitoring services. As for PaaS, you can easily deploy apps with zero configuration needed, like Node.js, Redis, Docker etc. Although the offering is very concise, I find it to be exactly what you need for more than 80% of the applications. In addition to the standard droplets, high CPU and high memory droplets are available for custom use, as well as backups and snapshots for each droplet. DigitalOcean team is working nonstop on increasing their offering based on the community requests. As a developer who uses DigitalOcean for quite a lot of time now, I can admit that their desire to satisfy their community is highly appreciated.
Pricing models available and transparency
Amazon Web Services: AWS is based on a pay per use pricing model. Every cloud computing technology has its own unique pricing and a pricing calculator is available for trying to estimate your costs upfront. You might find this calculator a bit complex if you haven’t used AWS before. In order to estimate your costs up front you need to translate your servers architecture design into AWS terms, and then try and estimate by choosing the appropriate services from the sidebar. I find the wide range of offering sometimes overshadows the costs estimations, so I find it useful sometimes to start firing up services and tracking the costs inside the dashboard using pricing alerts. On the other hand, AWS offers a very useful free tier for 12 months that can help early-stage startups get up and running.
DigitalOcean: DigitalOcean extremely transparent pricing models exist in two different yet similar approaches: pay per hour and pay per month. When using DigitalOcean you have no surprises. You can calculate the exact amount that will be charged, due to fixed prices for each droplet unit. Starting at $5/month for a 512MB droplet, DigitalOcean is suitable also for tiny side projects. Besides droplets and data storage units that are charged according to the resources allocated to you, networking, monitoring, alerts, DNS management and more, are completely free of charge. Bottom line, you pay only for the allocated resources, and you get a lot of useful extra components as a free of charge service.
Ease of use
How easy is it to get up and running as well as to iterate
Amazon Web Services: AWS dashboard is quite comfortable once you get used to it. Because of the large amounts of services, you might find it a bit overcrowded in comparison to the other alternatives presented here. You can use the default settings for your services and then to get up and running relatively quickly, but if you’d like to dive deeper into details (also for reducing costs) you might find yourself spending quite a lot of time on configurations using AWS dashboard. On the other hand, in large-scaled applications, you can find the additional features available for each service extremely useful and necessary.
DigitalOcean: DigitalOcean is branded for a reason as “Cloud computing, designed for developers”. As developers, we have so many things to take care of, especially when in charge of the end-to-end technological stack of our startup. Therefore, we need our cloud provider to be as simple as possible to setup. DigitalOcean’s user interface is the best I’ve used. It’s intuitive and let you get up and running in minutes even when using it for the first time. You don’t need to explore and scroll over too many features and options, just choose your Linux distribution, plan and geographic location, and you’re up and running in no time.
Tutorials and support
Available resources and support team
Amazon Web Services: AWS has a very useful tutorials library. There are many tutorials, but ones sometimes seem to be less detailed and user-friendly than others. You need to be experienced with servers infrastructure design before accessing many of the AWS tutorials. So, it might take you some time to explore their library before you’ll be able to actually find what you’re looking for. On the other hand, their customer support team is extraordinary. AWS support agents are super responsive and sensitive and will answer your questions in a professional way.
DigitalOcean: The tutorials library of DigitalOcean is endless. In almost every Google search about a topic related to servers or cloud infrastructure, you’ll find results from DigitalOcean tutorials library. The tutorials are well-written and cover important principals alongside with the technicalities of how to achieve your goal. In addition to accomplishing your task, you’re actually learning new things when following DigitalOcean’s tutorials. The support team is very responsive and professional, and free of charge virtual meetings are available with cloud specialists to help you design the architecture of your server.
Summary — choosing the best cloud computing technology for your startup
Amazon Web Services: AWS is by far the leading cloud provider when it comes to offering, scalability and features. On the other hand, its learning curve is moderate, so if you haven’t experienced with AWS before, it might take you some time to get up and running with properly.
Final startup grade: 4.5/5
DigitalOcean: I like comparing DigitalOcean to a boutique hotel. When using their cloud computing technologies you feel like you’re part of a family and treated like one. DigitalOcean covers everything you need as an early-stage startup, it is easy to use and provides expected convenient pricing models.
Final startup grade: 5/5
The most important thing about cloud provider is to have one. In our world, it’s much better to have your application deployed in a little smaller cloud provider than keep arguing about which cloud provider is better when you have no idea where your application will be 6 months from now.
If you’re familiar with one of the cloud vendors, use it for your main startup unless you’re sure it will not meet your requirements.
When developing side projects, I highly encourage you to try and play with new cloud providers. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with another.
Find more great tips for technological entrepreneurs at CodingStartups.
Published originally here.