To start, there is a big difference between using a shared host like HostGator and a cloud service like Digital Ocean.
HostGator is a good solution if you want someone to manage your servers and gives you the ability to host typical websites. Typically a regular site with static html or a site backed with php and possibly a MySQL database. You can get away with a shared host setup costing you around $20 a month with little to no work on your part once it is setup an running.
This solution for me was rather limited and didn’t offer much growth. In terms of the service and my knowledge of system administration.
When I found DigitalOcean I was pretty excited. The service offered me the ability to start playing with Node.js (which HostGator did not) as well as a much easier solution to implementing Git. That was just the beginning. I was also interested in having full control over my servers and every piece of software installed. By doing this I forced myself to learn more about security and how to setup multiple different environments. Again, just the tip of the iceberg. The DigitalOcean community has been a huge asset throughout the process and the more I use them the more I learn and experiment with new technologies.
That being said, the minimum cost of a droplet is $5 a month. You can create and destroy droplets on a whim. This offers you the ability to test and learn and break things and start over. They offer a ton of environments pre-configured with different setups or you can start fresh and add only what you want. It is a great way to learn without breaking the bank. When you find a solution you are comfortable with, you will have to maintain the server yourself. This means security patches, logging, etc etc. It will require your time, and as we all know, time is money. You’ll have to make the decision for yourself if the knowledge gained is worth the time. For me it is 100%.
If you decide to give DigitalOcean a try, I’d appreciate if you used my referral code. It’ll give you a free $10 credit and help me cover some of my monthly hosting costs.
Last but not least, I cannot express enough how invaluable the DigitalOcean community and the tutorials written by the community are. There is so much to learn and they are an amazing resource.
Good Luck and if you have any other questions, feel free to ask.