Drowning in a Digital Ocean

Around 2015, a colleague suggested I look at a hosting provider named “Digital Ocean”. He said they had very fast cloud hosted virtual private servers (VPS). I was at Linode at the time which even to this day I highly recommend. They have great technical support. In any event, I was considering moving back to “bare metal”. I used to host my web sites and applications at Server Beach (no longer available)– they had offered great deals on inexpensive small servers with great bandwidth plans. But I was curious and decided to check out Digital Ocean instead. In part because the brand name was very clever and the founders came highly recommended by my colleague. I was impressed with the performance and I created an account. And so my web sites happily drifted in a digital ocean with blue skies and puffy cloud hosting! For years, I enjoyed a stable environment for both development and production. The flexibility and ease offered by their dashboard was quite refreshing. Managing domain name services (DNS) and “spinning up” virtual private servers (VPS) were are breeze!

Occasionally, I submitted a technical support ticket. Sometimes it was very frustrating because they provided email only support. Usually my requests were not urgent and so I accepted the 24 hr responsive time as part of the great deal in hosting I was receiving. Hey, I was a technical support engineer before I was a software engineer so I certainly understand the business model. Phone support is a beast and email-only support mitigates a lot of issues.

As with real life, a storm of features approached. Digital Ocean was obviously striving to remain relevant in the cloud hosting market. I welcomed their Object Storage feature. Waves of creativity started flowing. I was excited about the possibilities and wondered how their application programming interface (API) might be leveraged to provide automated services and storage features for my own applications. Unfortunately, I was under siege by an armada of infrastructure notifications. Object Storage was intermittently available and effectively unusable. As Digital Ocean became increasingly innovative and sought the “booty” in the seas of Kubernetes, I became frustrated with repeated billing issues. I gasped for assistance from Digital Ocean support to no avail. In fact, my support tickets were challenged. I was told that I didn’t understand.

I believe the most infuriating aspect of the whole arrangement was email-only support prevented effective communication. When billing issues occur, Digital Ocean management should steer the course to phone support. Most software engineers, system administrators can accept some difficulties. It’s the nature of the Internet. In the end, I was presented with three different amounts to pay:

Digital Ocean support claims they are reconcilable but they attempted to charge my credit card $58.39 when they amount due was less. Moreover, their web site and email should present a consistent amount at the moment of notification. Three different amounts that require the customer to perform calculations and time periods are unacceptable and confusing!

During my three decades plus experience I have witnessed this type of chaos. Typically founders are no where to be found at the helm. (I promise that’s the last analogy LOL it was fun though!) Sometimes company leadership looses sight of what is important when a company grows too quickly. It happens, I get it. But when it comes to billing a company has to be willing to listen and improve.

So as I swim back to “bare metal” shores (okay, one more), I hope this experience is helpful to some and prevents others from drowning at Digital Ocean. Today, I use Linux containers (KVM). I spin up my own virtual private servers. They are fast and easily configured. If you have no system administration experience then I would highly recommend Linode. You will be able to to talk to phone support. They are experienced and reliable. If you know your way around the command line then you should definitely consider KVM.

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