DigitalOcean – first impressions

A couple of friends mentioned they were having a look at http://www.digitalocean.com/ as a VPS provider so I thought I’d take a quick look myself.

The signup process is painless, just an email address and a password required and you’re into a control panel that is relatively uncluttered. Just a few important options down the left side and as you click each one, the top right has a large button with what appears to be the most commonly selected option. For example, click “Billing” reveals “Manage Payments”, “Droplets” (their name for a VPS) results in a “Create” button and “Support” gives “New Ticket”.

There is plenty of space around the various options so no danger of accidentally clicking the wrong button and most of the icons have a tooltip pop up to say what they are (although it’s generally fairly obvious anyway).

There’s a well documented API available – just a couple of clicks to create an API key and you can do anything from create a new droplet to add a domain to their DNS. All the API functionality can be accessed from simple HTTP GET requests and results are JSON formatted so you could easily write a Javascript page to perform sequences of the common actions.

Support tickets get a fast response and there’s an active IRC channel (#digitalocean on Freenode) with plenty of helpful people and even some DigitalOcean staff.

Creation of a droplet takes just a couple of minutes. It says less than 55 seconds, but it took just over 2 minutes for mine – I guess there’s a certain amount of dependency on the load of the host servers. If you upload an SSH public key, it can be pre-installed on the server.

The billing is hourly and you can put some credit on your account with PayPal or add a credit card and then just create/destroy droplets as required. The control panel has a clear amount that the current month has cost you and it’s possible to create a snapshot, destroy the droplet and not incur any more costs until you restore the snapshot to a new droplet (this is apparently changing and snapshots will cost a small amount per month).

A couple of things I’ve noticed so far that aren’t so good:

They have datacentres in three locations: NYC (North Bergen, NJ), San Francisco, and Amsterdam, but only San Francisco is available for new droplets at present due to capacity issues in NYC and Amsterdam. This is supposed to be resolved soon and it’s possible to move droplets between locations by creating a snapshot and then recreating a droplet at the new location from the snapshot. I would imagine there will be limitations such as IP address changes and some downtime whilst the snapshot is made.

I created a CentOS 6.4 droplet and upgraded all the packages – when it rebooted, the kernel was still using an older one and not the one that just got installed. It turns out that you can’t boot a custom kernel, although there is a selection to choose from within the control panel (just not the most recent CentOS kernel).

Overall though, quite a nice system and not a bad price either!

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Simon

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