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A strong alternative to Heroku: DigitalOcean App Platform

Posted: October 24, 20226 min read

Platform as a Service offerings enable developers to build and deploy applications without having to manage the underlying infrastructure, and they have become more popular over time. One of the early PaaS platforms is Heroku, which provides a phenomenal developer experience, and has helped many developers on their journey since its inception in 2007. However, Heroku does have several downsides in the PaaS market, including pain points around high costs, and a lack of flexibility as applications scale. Recent changes to Herkou’s pricing, including the depreciation of their free tier, have led many developers and startups to search for Heroku alternatives.

When evaluating replacements for Heroku, you should look at solutions that offer the ease of use of Heroku and also address its pain points. One strong Heroku alternative is DigitalOcean App Platform, our fully managed PaaS solution. App Platform offers many of the benefits of Heroku, at a cost-effective price point and with additional flexibility that allows developers to have more control over their deployments. As builders scale their applications, they can also easily migrate to more advanced infrastructure solutions including our Infrastructure as a Service offerings and DigitalOcean Kubernetes. Below are some of the top reasons to consider DigitalOcean App Platform as an alterative to Heroku.

Keep your costs in check

Cost is one of the most important elements of any Platform as a Service offering, especially for early-stage companies who need predictable, transparent pricing. App Platform is run on DigitalOcean’s own infrastructure. This allows us to have much more control over our pricing. DigitalOcean’s pricing model keeps your costs low, not only when you start, but also when you scale your apps.

Heroku does not have their own infrastructure offerings, and it’s likely that one of the reasons behind the high costs of Heroku is that it’s built on Amazon Web Services. This means when you run Dynos, Heroku’s name for their application building blocks, under the hood they run on AWS’ infrastructure. This results in pricing where you have to pay $50 per month for a single Dyno with 1 GB of RAM. Costs can skyrocket as you add more Dynos or get more powerful Dynos to scale your applications. For startups and SMBs, every dollar matters, and businesses may question the ROI of Heroku, especially when there are alternative solutions that offer a similar developer experience.

Here are some data points that show the significant savings you can get on App Platform:

DigitalOcean Heroku
Small hobby projects $5 per month $7 per month
Prototype web service (512MB RAM, Dev DB) $12 per month $16 per month
Small production app (2 web service containers with 1MB RAM, managed database with 4GB RAM) $84 per month $150 per month
Production app with dedicated CPU (2 web service containers with dedicated CPU, managed database with 4GB RAM and high availability) $270 per month $700 per month

Get more flexibility when building and scaling apps

App Platform is built to provide builders with the utmost flexibility. We have two tiers for compute, Basic and Professional, and offer 10 plans ranging from 512 MB to 16 GB of RAM, with a healthy mix of shared and dedicated CPUs. There are fewer restrictions and you can power your app using any of the plans. This provides more granularity and flexibility when scaling your applications.

Heroku is inflexible and offers very few configurations out of the box. For example, the professional plan provides just two SKUs for Dynos - one with 2.5 GB and another with 14 GB, and nothing in between. There are also limitations around the number of Dynos you can have on an application and around combining Dynos from various tiers. This often makes it difficult to find the right configuration, leading to either under-powering your app or overpaying for infrastructure. The limited configurations also make scaling your apps harder as your business grows.

Smooth migration to IaaS when needed

As your business matures, you might find that PaaS products no longer meet your needs, as your application may require you to have more control of your infrastructure. Because Heroku only offers a PaaS solution, you will have to move out of Heroku to utilize Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions. This migration can be time-consuming and difficult.

Using a PaaS provider, like DigitalOcean, that also offers other IaaS products can make the transition to a more complex setup much simpler. In addition to App Platform, DigitalOcean offers a comprehensive portfolio of products including Droplet virtual machines, DigitalOcean Managed Kubernetes, managed databases, serverless compute through DigitalOcean Functions, block and object storage, and networking products like load balancers and virtual private clouds. If you reach a stage where you need more control over your infrastructure, we offer an easy migration path from App Platform to other compute options like Droplets and DigitalOcean Kubernetes. We also provide migration support from our technical solution engineers and partners to reduce the migration effort.

Similar simplicity, at a lower cost

Developers value Heroku for their simplicity, and at DigitalOcean, simplicity is at our core. App Platform provides an intuitive, visually rich experience to rapidly build, deploy, manage, and scale apps. You can deploy code directly from GitHub or GitLab repos, and get out-of-the-box support for popular languages and frameworks like Node.js, Python, Django, Go, PHP, and static sites. Check out this video to see App Platform in action:

In addition to App Platform, everything at DigitalOcean is built around simplicity and scalability. Simplicity is infused into our products, docs, pricing, billing, and support. This simplicity enables you to spend more time on your business and less on managing infrastructure. It makes it easy to onboard new developers, decreases training costs, and reduces the need for a large team of engineers to manage infrastructure.

Here’s what MyCast had to say about the benefits of App Platform:

“I don’t know much about maintaining servers, so the App Platform made it a lot easier to deploy and manage, and it saves me time from having to monitor my own Droplets and deploy to multiple places. It’s nice to push changes to Github and know it’s building and deploying in the background. It’s easy to scale up and down and great not to worry about the server-side maintenance.” - Billy Swift, Founder,

A Total Economic Impact study for DigitalOcean by Forrester found that an organization experiences 50% time savings on infrastructure management, saving engineers thousands of hours. It also calculated a savings of $300,000 due increased productivity.

Laser focus on serving startups and SMBs

DigitalOcean’s sole focus is to empower entrepreneurs, startups, and SMBs by making cloud computing simple, so that they can create world changing apps. Our products, pricing, and support are all designed to super serve the needs of startups and SMBs around the world. DigitalOcean is a big proponent of open source, and we encourage you to use your favorite open-source projects for building apps. There are no multi-year contracts or lock-ins, making it simple and risk-free to adopt the platform.

As you explore alternatives to Heroku, you may evaluate hyperscalers such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure. However, these hyperscalers are expensive, complex, and cater to the needs of large enterprises. You are force-fitted into a cloud that’s designed for someone else.

Try out App Platform

DigitalOcean is dedicated to providing the best PaaS solution in the market, and continually makes updates to App Platform to add requested features. Some recent updates include significant improvement in the build performance, the ability to securely connect your apps to Managed Databases using Trusted Sources, forward logs to external log providers such as Papertrail, Datadog and Logtail for better analysis and troubleshooting, set up alerts and monitoring for events such as successful deployment and domain configuration, and easily add functions as components of your apps. You can check out the docs and take App Platform for a spin today. If you’d like to have a conversation about using DigitalOcean and App Platform in your business, please feel free to contact our sales team.


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