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  •  Thursday, October 25, 2012   
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DigitalOcean are a New York based start-up that has been making waves in the VPS community with a simplified approach to spinning up Cloud VPS servers (or Droplets – as they call them) starting at just $5. We took some time out to have a chat with one of the Co-founders, Ben Uretsky.

Where did the idea for DigitalOcean come from?

All of the founding members had experience either in managed hosting or building other cloud providers. The idea to build DigitalOcean originated when one of our founders needed to get a rails app online easily and quickly. The experience was so frustrating, and we figured that there had to be other developers out there looking for a simple cloud provider, with great pricing, that would quickly allow them to get their servers online.

What are some the challenges starting a new cloud hosting company from the ground up?

The challenges of building a new cloud hosting company really originates from having to create market awareness in a crowded space. There are a lot of competitors in the cloud hosting industry, and it is a challenge to get your name out there and gain market position. We have put a strong emphasis on our differentiators, namely simplicity and price.

You use KVM to power your Droplets, tell us a more about the decision to use that particular type of Virtualization?

KVM is taking over as the leading virtualization engine and has full kernel level support. The entire Linux community is rallying behind it. We love the feature set that KVM provides over Linux, especially that it gives us a full birds eye view of the Hypervisor’s performance.

There’s a lot of discussion about what “cloud” hosting actually is, how do your droplets differ from say a Linode instance?

Cloud is all about scale: we don’t charge for bandwidth. We support 1 click resizes between all of the different packages. Additionally, we offer a lot of distinguishing features: backups and snapshots at no additional cost, an easy to use API to provision service, HTML5 console viewer, and the ability to spin up snapshots between different regions.

You’ve deployed over 40k droplets, what has been the most challenging thing to scale as you grow?

The most challenging thing to scale is cloud capacity, especially when we’re mentioned on popular sites that can drive thousands of visitors a day, all eager to try the new service. Another challenge is maintaining a collection of unique public IP addresses to ensure that all of our machines are accessible.

What’s a typical DigitalOcean user & what do they use your servers for?

Our service is popular for two types of users. The first is web developers who are building web applications utilizing framework-based stacks like Rails or Django. These include a lot of startups and small businesses. The second is sophisticated users who use our servers for VPN, proxy and security related services.

I also assume that the large amount of instances deployed is due to your free trial, do you think that has played a big part in reducing the barrier to entry for testing your platform?

The free trial has definitely introduced us to many new users that might not have otherwise tried DigitalOcean. It also makes DigitalOcean a great quick, disposable resource since we require only an email and password to signup. While other providers have minimum charges that span days ormonths, we bill by the hour, making DigitalOcean a true utility provider.

You have some SSD powered servers, do you see yourself moving more towards an SSD based setup in the future? What place do you think SSDs play in the current hosting market?

We are working right now on rebuilding the entire cloud on SSD based servers and abandoning SAS/SATA altogether. This is a big initiative for us, and we feel it will help drive future growth and really give our users the performance they need, especially at scale. We intend to complement SSD based virtual servers with a SAS/SATA based network storage service for users who have large archive requirements. We feel that SSD have really disrupted storage technology, something that hasn’t happened for decades prior to its release, and we intend to utilize it heavily within our Cloud.

There’s been a lot of praise for your control panel, is it completely custom?

Yes, it is completely custom. We are big believers in building from scratch to deliver a unique and unmatched experience to our users.

You also seem to have a large developer focus, are you seeing companies take advantage of your API to automate new servers etc?

Yes, we have a fair number of users who are leveraging the API to automate server deployments, provisioning and monitoring. The feedback we have received is as follows: it’s easy to get started, all the documentation is on a single page, and we’ve made the process very similar to deploying via the web interface. This allows developers to get started quickly and build their platforms on top of the API.

What does your roadmap look like? Do you have a defined plan, or are you iterating based on customer feedback?

We are still formalizing our official roadmap which we intend to publish on the website. At this point, it’s a combination of feature requests, customer feedback, bug fixes, and our own ambitions for the Cloud. I’m sure we’ll get better at iterating and publishing the roadmap in the future, but this is an area that’s highly volatile for us now.

Some of the key features we’re excited about in the near future include: SSD standard for all servers, 1 Click Application Installs (LAMP, Rails, WordPress, etc.), Load Balancing, Private IP network, IPv6, Auto Scaling, and Network Storage.

You have two locations at the moment, New York & Amsterdam. Any plans to expand to other locations?

We certainly do. We’ve seen a great deal of users from the Asia region pickup our service and we would love to expand in to the Asia-Pacific region. Furthermore, we want to provide more choices for customers in the US, including a West Coast and Central POP.

If you could solve one big technical problem with the hosting industry what would it be?

Making complex cloud infrastructure simple. The large providers have provided an extensive but complex base from which to build infrastructure: cumbersome control panels, poor documentation, services designed for Enterprise users instead of developers or small businesses. It’s understandable that Cloud infrastructure requires an in depth understanding of topics like load balancing, distributed file systems, capacity planning and other difficult concepts.

Instead of building another service that leaves the user lost in a puzzling maze, we’re dedicated and focused on delivering these enterprise level features in the most intuitive and simple way possible, so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of Cloud and Virtualization without the complexity.

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