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DigitalOcean vs Heroku: Comparing Cloud Application Platforms

Note: Pricing and product information are correct as of May 29, 2024, and subject to change

The Platform as a Service (PaaS) market, valued at USD 56.2 billion in 2020 and projected to grow at a CAGR of 19.6% from 2020 to 2026, offers a range of tools and services that simplify the application development process. With PaaS, individual developers and scaling businesses can concentrate on writing their code while their cloud provider manages the entire backend infrastructure, from networking to cloud storage to security. PaaS offers pre-configured runtime environments and predictable cloud scalability, making deployment simpler than ever. It is an ideal choice for developers, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and independent software vendors (ISVs) seeking rapid iteration, easy scalability, and simple deployment without the need for extensive customization or system administration.

In this article, we compare the DigitalOcean App Platform and Heroku platforms’ features in detail to help you make an informed decision about your next cloud application platform.

Summary

  1. PaaS tools, or cloud application platforms, simplify the application development process by managing backend infrastructure, offering pre-configured runtime environments, and ensuring scalability.

  2. Though Heroku’s ease of use and integrated services are appealing, DigitalOcean’s transparent pricing and cost-effective plans make it a budget-friendly option, particularly for businesses looking to scale efficiently without incurring high costs.

  3. DigitalOcean’s App Platform offers a free tier and plans starting at $5 per month, providing developers and businesses with a flexible and cost-effective solution to scale their applications as needed.

💡Looking for a Heroku alternative? DigitalOcean App Platform offers scalability, simplified deployment, extensive language and framework support, flexible pricing, and strong security features. DigitalOcean’s broader ecosystem of services, combined with the App Platform, delivers a cost-effective solution for businesses of all sizes.

Take an interactive App Platform tour and explore the features!

DigitalOcean vs Heroku

Choosing the right cloud application platform is important for your business’s cloud operations, affecting everything from deployment ease to scalability to cloud ROI. DigitalOcean and Heroku are two leading cloud service providers that cater to different aspects of application development and hosting. DigitalOcean’s powerful combination of IaaS and PaaS (App Platform) provides a simple, flexible, and scalable infrastructure. Heroku simplifies the development process only with its PaaS model.

When comparing DigitalOcean and Heroku, several key factors, such as pricing, level of control over the infrastructure, and customer support, come into play. Understanding these differences can help you select the best platform to meet your specific needs.

Overview of DigitalOcean App Platform

DigitalOcean’s App Platform offers a range of powerful features that help you deploy applications faster in the market. With the DigitalOcean App Platform, you can manage your APIs and build web apps and websites.

DigitalOcean’s App Platform is designed to offer builders maximum flexibility. It features two compute tiers—Basic and Professional—and ten plans ranging from 512 MB to 16 GB of RAM with a mix of shared and dedicated CPUs. This variety provides more granularity and flexibility when scaling applications, allowing you to choose the optimal plan for your needs without restrictions.

Key features include:

  • Support for popular languages: Enjoy out-of-the-box support for popular languages and frameworks such as Node.js, Python, Django, Go, PHP, and static sites.

  • Built-in security: Benefit from managed SSL certificates that protect your apps from DDoS attacks and automatic OS patching to improve security.

  • Easy scaling: Use smart autoscaling to adjust resources horizontally or vertically according to your budget, ensuring app availability during traffic spikes.

  • Faster deployment: Deploy code directly from your GitHub and GitLab repositories and automatically redeploy apps when updates are pushed to your source code.

  • Function integration: Add serverless functions to your apps to quickly implement APIs for web or mobile applications.

  • Secure traffic management: Connect your apps securely to third-party databases, APIs, and SaaS programs using dedicated IPs to enable IP whitelisting and block unwanted traffic.

  • Simple rollbacks: Monitor deployment progress with clear indicators and easily roll back to previous app versions if needed.

  • Comprehensive alerts and monitoring: Set up alerts and monitor key events, such as successful deployments and domain configurations, to gain insights into app resource usage.

  • Improved log analysis: Forward logs to external providers such as Papertrail and Datadog for improved analysis and troubleshooting.

Overview of Heroku

Heroku’s platform is used for deploying, managing, and scaling web applications. Heroku is built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and supports multiple programming languages.

Though Heroku offers step-by-step increases from 512 MB up to 2 GB, it abruptly jumps from 2.5 GB to 14 GB, creating significant gaps in available configurations. This lack of flexibility might be challenging, forcing developers to choose between under-powering their applications or overpaying for unnecessary infrastructure. The limited configuration options make it difficult to tailor resources precisely to application needs, complicating the scaling process as the business grows and potentially leading to inefficient resource utilization.

Key features include:

  • Dynos: Dynos are Heroku’s smart containers where you can run your Apps. System and language stacks are continually monitored, patched, and upgraded.

  • Runtime environment: Run your apps inside containers called Dynos in a fully managed runtime environment. Heroku handles production, configuration, orchestration, load balancing, failovers, logging, and security.

  • Heroku data: Heroku Postgres is a secure and easy-to-set-up PostgreSQL service. It offers encryption at rest, simple scaling, database forking, and continuous protection. Heroku Redis is an in-memory key-value data store that provides data throughput and supports top programming languages. Heroku

  • Add-ons: Extend your applications with pre-integrated services like New Relic, MongoDB, SendGrid, Searchify, Fastly, Papertrail, ClearDB MySQL, and Treasure Data.

  • Data rollback: Heroku’s build system and Postgres service allow you to instantly roll back your code or database to a previous state.

  • App metrics: Monitor your applications with built-in metrics for throughput, response times, memory, CPU load, and errors.

  • Heroku Flow: Enables continuous delivery using pipelines, review Apps, and GitHub integration to build, iterate, stage, and deploy your apps.

  • GitHub integration: Integrate with GitHub, where every pull request generates a disposable Review App for testing. Any repo can be set to auto-deploy with every GitHub push to a selected branch.

  • Customizable extensibility: You can customize your stack with Heroku Buildpacks, choosing from hundreds built by the community or creating your own for various frameworks and languages.

  • Heroku Enterprise: Heroku’s Enterprise is for large organizations requiring the highest level of service and integration capabilities. Heroku Enterprise customers can connect their Heroku-hosted applications with Salesforce, allowing for unified data management, streamlined business processes, and customer support.

Pricing

Pricing and cost affect the adoption and sustainability of cloud products and services. Effective pricing models can influence a business’s operational efficiency, scalability, and overall budget management.

DigitalOcean pricing

DigitalOcean offers a straightforward and transparent pricing model that is highly attractive to developers and businesses. DigitalOcean App platform offers a free tier as well as a range of plans tailored to different needs, starting at a low cost of $5 per month. DigitalOcean’s pricing is based on usage, with clear costs for Droplets, storage, bandwidth, and additional services. This predictable pricing structure allows businesses to plan their expenses accurately and scale their infrastructure cost-effectively.

App Platform

Plan Price per month Features
Free tier $0 -3 apps with static sites -1GB data transfer allowance per app with static sites -Deployment from GitHub and GitLab -Automatic HTTPS -Bring your custom domain -Global CDN -DDoS mitigation -Unlimited team members
Paid tier $5 -Includes all free features -Deployment from Container Registries -Shared and Dedicated CPU -Horizontal and vertical scaling -CPU-based Autoscaling -Automatic OS patching -Hourly application metrics and Log forwarding -High Availability and Dedicated Egress IP -Development and Production Databases -Up to 10 revisions for rollbacks

App Platform container

CPU type Price per month Features
Shared $5- $50 -512 MB -2 GB memory -100 GB -900 GB data transfer -1-8 vCPUs
Dedicated $29-$392 -512 MB -32 GB memory -50 GB to 250 GB data transfer -1-2 vCPUs

App Platform additional pricing

Product Price per month Features
Dedicated Egress IPs $25.00 1
Additional outbound transfer $0.02 1 GB
Development Database $7 1(512MB)

Heroku pricing

Heroku employs a tiered pricing model that might become costly as applications grow. The platform provides a variety of Dyno sizes and additional services, but the costs can add up quickly when factoring in multiple Dynos, managed databases, and add-ons. Heroku’s pricing is often seen as a premium due to its simplicity and ease of use, but it may not be cost-effective for all business sizes, particularly when scaling larger applications.

Plan name Price per month Features
Eco $5 - 512MB, 1x-4x compute, Deploy from Git -Automated OS patching, Unified logs -2 number of process types -Sleeps after 30 mins of inactivity; otherwise, it is always on depending on your remaining monthly Eco dyno hours - Free SSL and automated certificate management on custom domains -No horizontal scaling, Cannot combine with other dyno types -No autoscaling
Basic $7 - 512MB, 1x-4x compute, Deploy from Git -Automated OS patching, Unified logs -10 number of process types -Always on - Free SSL on custom domains, Automated Certificate Management on custom domains -No horizontal scaling, Cannot combine with other dyno types -No autoscaling
Standard 1X, 2X $25, $50 -512MB 1GB -1x-4x, 4x-8x compute, Deploy from Git -Automated OS patching, Unified logs -Unlimited number of process types -Always on -Free SSL and automated certificate management on custom domains -Horizontal scaling. Can combine with Performance dynos -No autoscaling
Performance- M, L, LRAM, XL, 2XL $250 - $1500 -2.5GB, 14GB, 30 GB RAM -12x,50x, 24x compute, Deploy from Git, -Automated OS patching, Unified logs - Unlimited number of process types - Always on - Free SSL and automated certificate management on custom domains - Horizontal and auto-scaling. Can combine with standard dynos
Private-S, M, L, L RAM, XL Contact Sales for custom pricing -1GB, 2.5GB, 14GB, 30GB, 62GB RAM -12x, 12x, 50x, 24x, 50x compute, Deploy from Git -Automated OS patching, Unified logs -Unlimited number of process types -Always on -Free SSL and automated certificate management on custom domains -Horizontal and auto-scaling. Can combine with multiple dynos -Dedicated private network -No HIPAA compliance
Shield- S, M, L, L RAM, XL Contact Sales for custom pricing -1GB, 2.5GB, 14GB, 30GB, 62GB RAM -12x, 12x, 50x, 24x, 50x compute, Deploy from Git -Automated OS patching, Unified logs -Unlimited number of process types -Always on -Free SSL and automated certificate management on custom domains -Horizontal and auto-scaling. Can combine with multiple dynos -Dedicated private network -HIPAA compliance

Free tier and cost comparison

  • One notable difference between the two platforms is the availability of a free tier. DigitalOcean offers a basic free plan that allows users to test the platform and deploy small applications without any initial cost. In contrast, Heroku does not provide a free tier, which might be a barrier for small startups or individual developers who want to experiment before committing financially.

  • Heroku’s underlying infrastructure is built on the AWS platform, which is known for its higher infrastructure costs. This reliance on AWS means that users often pay a premium for Heroku’s managed services, making it more expensive than DigitalOcean for similar levels of service and performance.

  • While Heroku’s autoscaling feature costs $250 per month, DigitalOcean offers a much more affordable option at just $29 per month. Similarly, Heroku charges $25 monthly for horizontal scaling, whereas DigitalOcean’s horizontal scaling solution is available for $5 monthly.

Support plans

Support plans ensure that businesses can quickly resolve technical issues and maintain smooth operations. Support options help companies contact customer care efficiently, minimizing downtime.

DigitalOcean support

DigitalOcean’s support services are exceptional in the cloud computing industry. It offers affordable and accessible plans tailored to developers, startups, SMBs, and ISVs.

All customers receive free support, irrespective of their subscription level.

Support plan Price per month Response time Average resolution time Support agents
Starter Free < 24 hours 48 hours Customer support staff providing general guidance.
Developer $24 < 8 hours 16 hours Customer support staff providing general guidance.
Standard $99 < 2 hours 4 hours Includes live chat. High-level technical staff experienced in all products with consistent troubleshooting.
Premium $999 < 30 mins 2 hours High-level technical staff experienced in all products, resulting in quicker troubleshooting within 30 minutes.

For businesses managing large-scale, mission-critical applications, DigitalOcean provides a premium support plan priced at $999 per month. This plan includes:

  • A dedicated team of Technical Account Managers (TAMs) and business advisors

  • A direct Slack channel for quick and efficient communication

  • Quick response times within 30 minutes and prioritized ticket handling

Heroku support

Heroku offers a range of support plans, from basic to enterprise. The basic support plan offers simple support needs, with 12x5 support hours and access to the Heroku community. Heroku enterprise customers can access enterprise support plans accessible through Salesforce Success Plans.

Support plan Price Description
Basic Included in plan -For simple support needs -Heroku data services -12x5 support hours Response: Best effort -Access to the Heroku community -Self-serve resources
Enterprise - Salesforce Success Plan
Standard Included in all license -Heroku data services -12x5 support hours -Response: 2 days during local business hours -Access to the Salesforce Trailblazer community -Self-serve resources -2 days during local business hours
Premier 30% of net license fees -Health check and recommendations -Heroku data services -Access 24*7,365 days -Response: 1 hour for business-stopping issues -Email and phone support -Application deployment support -Access to the Salesforce Trailblazer community -Expert-led coaching programs
Signature Custom Price -Technical Account manager -Architecture design review -Key event management -Health check and recommendations -Heroku data services- Postgres & Connect Tuning; Dataset Import/Export -Personalized 1-1 onboarding workshops -Access 24*7,365 days, and 911# -Response: 15- and 30-minute updates for business-stopping issues -Highest level of support expertise -Application deployment support

Heroku’s enterprise support through Salesforce might be complex and expensive, and it lacks clear pricing. Only Signature plan members get access to Technical Account Managers(TAMs), which makes it less accessible than DigitalOcean’s offerings.

In contrast, DigitalOcean’s highly transparent support plans offer clear and straightforward pricing. All customers receive free support, and the premium plan, including a dedicated technical account manager, is available for $999 monthly. By providing accessible, cost-effective, and dedicated support tailored to the unique requirements of SMBs and developers, DigitalOcean is a great alternative, especially for businesses with limited budgets or those seeking a more responsive and personalized support experience.

Drawbacks of Heroku

1. Limited control over infrastructure

Heroku abstracts away much of the underlying infrastructure, simplifying deployment but restricting developers’ control. Directly accessing the servers or making low-level changes might be difficult for those needing a highly customized environment. This lack of control might hinder performance optimization and the implementation of specific security measures.

2. Vendor lock-In

As a pure PaaS provider, Heroku may not offer the flexibility or control required as your application scales or your infrastructure needs evolve. Migrating from Heroku’s proprietary platform to alternative PaaS solutions may be complex and time-consuming.

💡DigitalOcean’s diverse products provide a smoother transition path, spanning both PaaS (App Platform) and IaaS (Droplets-Linux virtual machines, Managed Kubernetes, Databases, and more). If your business outgrows the constraints of a PaaS environment, DigitalOcean handles cloud migration challenges by providing great migration support, minimizing disruptions, and reducing the migration effort with dedicated support from technical experts.

Our Forrester Consulting’s Total Economic Impact (TEI) study states that hosting on DigitalOcean can result in significant cost savings totaling $1.4 million, highlighting the platform’s cost-effectiveness as your infrastructure requirements scale. Migrate to DigitalOcean today!

3. Scalability limitations

While Heroku offers convenient scaling options through Dynos, the platform has limitations in terms of flexibility. Users might face restrictions on the number and combination of Dynos they can deploy, which can complicate the application scaling process. These limitations might make it harder for businesses to respond to varying traffic demands and growth (during the sale or launch phase). For example, after the 2.5 GB Dyno, the next option jumps to 14 GB, leaving a large gap in between. This inflexibility might result in excess spending on resources or insufficient application performance.

4. Higher costs

Heroku’s pricing structure might be expensive, particularly for businesses with growing needs. Heroku’s costs can quickly increase, especially when scaling applications or utilizing advanced features like autoscaling. The higher costs might make it less attractive for ISVs, startups, and SMBs operating on tight budgets.

5. Complex support plans

Heroku’s support plans, especially for enterprise customers, are complex and lack transparency. The pricing for these plans is not clearly outlined, and access to a technical account manager is limited to the second highest-tier Signature plan. This complexity might make it difficult for businesses to understand and budget for their support needs.

Scale infinitely with DigitalOcean’s App Platform

DigitalOcean is committed to delivering the best PaaS solution on the market and regularly updates our App Platform to include user-requested features. Recent improvements include autoscaling capabilities for dynamic resource allocation, dedicated IP addresses for improved networking, and cost optimization measures resulting in more resources at a lower cost, facilitating cheaper scaling.

Additionally, simplifying pricing tiers has increased flexibility, allowing users to build precisely what they require without unnecessary constraints. You can set up alerts and monitoring for events such as successful deployments and domain configurations and easily add functions as components of your apps.

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Aside from App Platform, DigitalOcean offers a range of cloud products for your business needs:

  • Droplets—Scalable Linux virtual machines are the foundation of its IaaS offerings. Droplets can be quickly deployed, resized, and customized, providing flexibility for hosting applications, databases, and more.

  • Managed Databases- Fully managed PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB, Kafka, and Redis database services. These services include automated backups, high availability, and high-end scaling, reducing the operational burden on developers.

  • DigitaOcean Kubernetes (DOKS): Developers can manage containerized applications using Kubernetes clusters. This service simplifies application deployment and scaling and ensures high availability and resilience.

  • Block Storage and Object Storage—DigitalOcean provides scalable storage solutions, including Block Storage for persistent data storage and Spaces for object storage. These services are designed to efficiently handle varying data storage needs.

  • Load Balancers - Enable horizontal scaling by distributing incoming traffic across multiple Droplets, ensuring high application availability and reliability. This feature helps manage traffic spikes and improve application performance.

Whether you’re a startup looking for cost-effective solutions or an enterprise seeking scalability, DigitalOcean’s App platform will help you develop your business effortlessly. Explore our documentation for guided tutorials.

Get started with DigitalOcean today!

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