Web hosting by developers, for developers
DigitalOcean offers what it calls a developer cloud: a network of virtual machines that are designed to allow you to scale up as your website grows. CEO Mark Templeton was behind the explosive growth of Citrix Systems, and the company now serves over a million developers in 195 countries across twelve different data centers.
Unlike other hosting companies, DigitalOcean specializes in cloud computing and doesn’t offer shared or VPS hosting. When you first land on the website, it can be hard to tell what it actually does. It clearly focuses on attracting web developers and its stripped back homepage aims to deter non-techy visitors.
Spoiler alert: if you’re a beginner website owner who needs any kind of support or hand-holding – don’t bother reading on. The support team is practically non-existent, and, because this is something of a specialist provider, it’s not going to be the perfect host for everyone.
The question is, is it the perfect host for you?
In this article, I’m going to help you to figure that out, and I’m going to share a few of my own experiences along the way. Are you ready? Good. Let’s get started.
Heavy duty tech tools (if you know how to use them)
As DigitalOcean has a heavy focus on working with developers, you won’t find standard features like free domain names, free backups, SSL certificates, or even instant customer support.
However, if you’ve got technical know-how, you can create and maintain your own bespoke cloud server featuring everything from floating IP addresses to private networking, just be warned, its features are not as straightforward to use as with other providers.
Despite focussing solely on cloud hosting, DigitalOcean has no shortage of options to choose from. It offers different platforms for different use cases, from its scalable droplets for app deployment to its spaces solution for file storage and its “worry-free” database hosting. You can choose which products you’re most interested in and only pay for what you use.
DigitalOcean protects your data from end-to-end with extra encryption included by default. It’s not foolproof, but it is better than most and you can always enhance it with additional layers of security, as long as you know a little coding and can follow DigitalOcean’s online tutorials.
Choice of Server Locations
With DigitalOcean, you can take your pick of where you’d like your primary server to be located, from Germany and the Netherlands to India, Singapore, Canada, and the USA. It also allows you to run speed tests on each of those locations from right within the dashboard. However, it’s always worth running tests using an external tool for a second, impartial opinion.
Tools and Integrations
On top of the company’s web-based control panels and command lines, DigitalOcean also taps into a bunch of APIs and includes some one-click installers, although some people have had problems getting them to work. It also has collaboration tools for full teams and integrations for a range of common dev tools. It even integrates with Slack — if you can get that integration to work in the first place.
Ease of use
Better for advanced users than for rookies
Honestly, DigitalOcean isn’t going to win prizes for its accessibility any time soon. Its core audience is seasoned developers, and so the emphasis is more on providing functionality and scalability at a low price than on making it easy for you to find your way around the interfaces. Still, it does have some pretty cool ease-of-use features that are worth a mention.
Create an Account
Creating an account with DigitalOcean is refreshingly easy, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it has one of the more pleasant onboarding experiences on the marketplace. The problems start if you try to contact support, which is pretty much non-existent throughout the setup (any really any other) process.
Connect a Domain and Install WordPress
In fact, there’s a strange disparity between how easy it is to create an account and how tricky it can be to carry out other tasks. Connecting domains and installing WordPress can be too complex for beginners because you’ll need to fiddle with SSH keys and command terminals, but developers will have no problem getting started.
Click here for a step-by-step guide to installing WordPress and connecting a domain.
Perhaps it’s just a developer thing, but DigitalOcean has an impressive set of documentation including a public knowledge base. Its “Write for DOnations” program invites people to submit knowledge base articles and to get paid for them, with a matching amount being paid to charity. This means that it has an impressive amount of technical content just waiting for you to tap into it.
Choose Only the Resources You Need
Because the system is cloud-based, it’s easy for you to select and pay for only the resources and functionality that you need. Other hosts tend to group the offerings together into different packages, but DigitalOcean keeps its prices low by allowing you to strip it back to the bare minimum.
Advanced Server Management
The DigitalOcean console provides some visual server management tools, but it also provides SSH access or management via a web-based Linux console. If you want to use something like cPanel, you’ll need to install (and pay for it) yourself, so you’re likely to need at least some command line experience if you plan on managing your cloud server yourself.
Pretty speedy, but watch out for downtime
One of the good things about DigitalOcean is that it offers a speed test tool on the site so that you can instantly check the performance of any of the twelve servers. But if anything, all that the screenshot shows is how bad my ISP is.
I also ran a test of my own using Sucuri Page Load Test (because you should never rely solely on what a potential host tells you) and the results are shown in the screenshot below.
All in all, it’s pretty speedy when it’s up and running, but my own personal experience, as well as tons of online customer reviews, highlights experiences of downtime with DigitalOcean. And if your site does go down, good luck getting the support team to help you to fix it (I’ll delve into more detail below).
45% “bad” from TrustPilot
Most web hosts promote customer service as though it’s a major feature. DigitalOcean doesn’t even seem to bother. DigitalOcean has its strengths, but support isn’t one of them. The company has an impressively poor Trustpilot score of 3.5/10, with 45% of users giving them a 1-star review.
Most of these negative reviews focus on the support team, with one typical reviewer saying, “DigitalOcean’s customer service is non-existent. It locks accounts for no good reason and just doesn’t answer to tickets raised. This is purely unacceptable.”
I wish I could argue with the negative online sentiment, but I’ve used DigitalOcean a few times throughout the years, and I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences with them. In the past, a load of my client sites went down and they didn’t reply to my support request for over two weeks.
I was really hoping that the support would have improved over the years, but when I tried to contact the team to test the service, I couldn’t even get a message to them. When I tried to submit a support ticket and the page threw up an error.
There was a bug at the time I was trying to contact the team. There was a banner stating they were working on fixing it, but despite waiting for five business days, it still wasn’t resolved.
Annoying? You can say that again.
Towards the cheaper end of the market, but it’s by no means the cheapest
DigitalOcean uses a slightly different pricing model than many hosting providers because of the nature of cloud hosting. Instead of charging you a set fee per month for specific packages, it allows you to build your own plan based on how many resources you use.
It also uses a capping model, so you’ll be billed hourly up to a monthly cap of 672 hours, after which you’ll be charged the flat monthly cost.
And there’s good news when it comes to payment too, thanks to a range of different options including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover and PayPal, as well as wire transfers, purchase orders and ACH upon request.
Cancellations & Refunds
One DigitalOcean customer, Anthony Cosgrove, left a 1-star review on TrustPilot accusing the host of unfair business practices after DigitalOcean billed him $40 for not canceling his trial. Fair enough, you might think, if the user forgets to cancel. But that’s ignoring a bigger problem.
DigitalOcean doesn’t have a refund policy and there’s no working way to contact them (at the time of writing this review) if something goes wrong during the cancellation process.
When I tried, I would have liked to have requested a refund for the $1.03 of usage that I’d had to pay for while testing the service, but the support system wasn’t working and so it was impossible to get in touch. Luckily, in my case, it was only a dollar.