DigitalOcean decides to head rivals off at the PaaS, floats App Platform to deploy, run code without juggling servers

If you fear you'll drown in AWS, GCP, Azure, etc, maybe this is a wave you'd like to catch

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Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider DigitalOcean dipped its toes into the Platform-as-a-Service waters on Tuesday with the launch of App Platform.

IaaS, which involves companies renting basic computation components like servers to customers, who supply the operating systems and software, is a market now dominated by giants like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

In the nine years since it was founded, DigitalOcean has nonetheless made a respectable business out of renting IT infrastructure to smaller, more price-sensitive organizations and developers.

Facing price pressure from other budget-minded cloud service providers and unable to match the constant drumbeat of new services from IaaS giants like AWS, DigitalOcean has decided to try its hand at a PaaS offering.

PaaS, exemplified by Saleforce's Heroku, involves having the customer manage the application and data, without worrying about server administration or network mumbo-jumbo. But the issue with Heroku and similar services is that they tend to be more expensive than IaaS offerings because they themselves are customers of AWS or another IaaS provider and they have to pass that cost along.

DigitalOcean VP of products Apurva Joshi argues his company's App Platform can avoid having to pass third-party costs on to customers because DigitalOcean owns its infrastructure.

"With the App Platform, you can build, deploy, and scale apps and static sites quickly and easily — much as you can with other PaaS solutions — by simply pointing to your GitHub repository," Joshi said in the blog post. "Because we own our infrastructure, your costs on the App Platform are significantly lower than on other providers."

Perhaps, but cloud pricing can be tricky and often leads to bill shock. Google can make the same claim about owned infrastructure with Google App Engine, its PaaS offering, which is easier to manage but likely to cost more than an app deployed to its IaaS service Google Compute Engine.

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However the bill gets tallied, App Platform promises to handle things such as automatic scaling, SSL certificate management, DDoS protection, databases, operating systems, and deployment. Customers point it at a GitHub repo, fill out the necessary metadata, perhaps set some environmental variables, and click launch to see their application up and running. The result is something similar to Heroku without the command line (though there's a CLI if needed).

The large cloud service providers all sell PaaS services at their cloud salad bars (AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Google App Engine, Azure App Service, etc, etc, etc), though DigitalOcean is aiming at individual developers, startups, and small firms rather than larger outfits and enterprises. Even so, it has to contend with various other competitors focused on the wallet-watching set, like Render and Jelasic, not to mention PaaS software like Dokku that can run on DigitalOcean droplets.

Intended for web apps, static websites, APIs, and background workers, App Platform is available in three tiers: Starter ($0/month), Basic ($5/month), and Professional ($12/month).

But that doesn't include the accompanying infrastructure cost, which is going to be a CPU instance (container) of some sort, ranging from a shared instance with 1 CPU core and 512 MiB of RAM ($5/mo) to a dedicated instance with four CPU cores and 16 GiB RAM ($300/mo). There's also a charge for development or managed databases, additional outbound transfer, and object storage.

App Platform is currently available in DigitalOcean's FRA (Frankfurt), NYC (New York), and AMS (Amsterdam) regions, and other regions should come online shortly.

Planned improvements include support for code deployment from GitLab and Bitbucket, easier custom domain configuration, metrics-oriented alerts, support for user-supplied containers, and various other features. ®

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