The Best Docker Hosting: Who's The Best For Your Site? [Updated: 2018]

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Comparing Docker Hosting

Docker Hosting

What You'll Learn

Simply put, I will be teaching you about the ups, the downs and the general good-to-knows about Docker Hosting. Aside from the ability to pick the bests hosts with Docker in mind, you'll also learn about this popular application development and deployment tool.

Understanding of application deployment in containers is a useful function to be clear with. Docker runs on Linux, which I will cover further in-depth as we get into more detail.

An Introduction to Docker

Docker is a tool used to create containers, which allow developers to package and send all the pieces needed to make an application run smoothly. A container means they don't have to worry that the settings on the computer used to deploy the application creating conflicts.

Arguably the largest container open-source project, Docker is leading the charge toward a more efficient online world. Supporting everything from version control systems to Minecraft servers, containerization has long been shaking the app development world.

Don't Virtual Machines do the Same Thing?

The days of dealing with bulky, resource-hogging virtual machines just to run a handful of small applications are over. Now, those apps work in a small, contained environment. Free from software conflicts, this is a perfect solution for app developers in need of stable testing grounds -- but the uses of Docker are endless.

Should You Choose a Container or a Virtual Machine?

Docker Features
Docker Features

The issue of containers vs. virtual machines is a complex one. If you're working with or developing applications, you may not be sure which to choose. This guide will touch on all those subjects, so read on to find out if Docker is right for your latest project.

Docker is a relatively new containerization technology. It allows web application developers and system admins to deploy apps to web servers inside of isolated virtual containers which provide all needed dependencies and an operating system abstraction layer.

Feature Container Virtual Machine
Allows devs to isolate applications yes yes
Overhead cost low higher
Ability to limit resource access? yes not usually
Ease of use newbie-friendly complex
Requires the same OS for all files yes no

How to Get Docker

Find The Best Docker Hosting For You

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A2+Hosting screenshot
A2 Hosting Start Cloud VPS plan
10GB 2TB
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4.5 stars
227 user reviews
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$15.00/mo
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Interserver Linux Cloud VPS plan
25GB 1TB
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 5 stars
4.5 stars
207 user reviews
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$6.00/mo
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LiquidWeb 2 GB VPS plan
40GB 10TB
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4.5 stars
62 user reviews
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$59.00/mo
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Beyond Hosting Compute Scalable VPS plan
20GB 500GB
  • Support 0 stars
  • Features 0 stars
  • Uptime 0 stars
  • Value 0 stars
0 stars
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$32.00/mo
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DigitalOcean 5 Monthly plan
20GB 2TB
  • Support 3.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4 stars
13 user reviews
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$5.00/mo
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FastComet VPS Cloud 1 plan
24GB 2TB
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4.5 stars
35 user reviews
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$49.95/mo
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Rackspace Cloud 1GB Performance plan
  • Support 3 stars
  • Features 4 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 3 stars
3.5 stars
2 user reviews
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$116.80/mo
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Webair Public Cloud Basic plan
25GB 10TB
  • Support 5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
5 stars
3 user reviews
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$99.00/mo
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How to Get Docker

A Docker container can be installed in a variety of ways. You can get it set up on Linux, Windows 10, Azure, and other systems. Vagrant's “Docker Provisioner” or sudo apt-get can also install it if you use those programs. Last but not least, Docker Machine will let you run Docker both on cloud platforms and on older versions of Mac and Windows.

Docker Homepage
What features does Docker offer?

One of the most important things is finding good Docker hosting that supports the platform. You'll want it either pre-installed or the ability to go in and download programs yourself. There's no use finding a great host, only to realize that there's no way to get Docker Engine installed.

How Do You Get a Docker Image?

After you have a host and install Docker Engine, you'll want to use Docker Hub or a similar repository to find a Docker image. An instance of an image is a container, so one image can create multiple containers -- a necessary resource when using this platform.

You can find everything from an Ubuntu container, images from vendors like Red Hat, ora versatile Nginx image for all your web server needs. If you're proficient with programming, working with these files and commands should be no issue.

Tackling The Environment Problem

No app is an island. Every software application relies on dependencies outside itself — frameworks, libraries, plugins, web servers, databases, are all used when building modern software. These, in turn, rely on other libraries and depend on particular environment settings and configurations.

Avoiding Complications

Each application or dependency might rely on a particular version, or create conflicts if used in conjunction with other software. In short — the complex ecosystem of software on a typical computer running many different applications can create unforeseen problems.

For example — you might find that an app has some bugs when running on one particular version of a web server, but is fine on another. You could track down the source of those bugs (which you may not be able to find or fix), or you could simply choose to use the version that works.

Multiple Apps on the Same Server

Docker VM Guide
Docker has detailed documentation on setting up multiple services in a container.

But what if you are running two apps on the same server that each have a similar problem, but with different versions of the web server software? Or some other dependency, for that matter.

Saying that, when you run multiple apps on the same server, should any of the apps move to a different server, you'll have some work to do. This would be in the form of redirection or reverse proxying.

Software Conflict

Typical Solutions for Software Conflicts

Every computer system has a unique environment. The particular combination of hardware, firmware, operating system (including specific distribution and version), installed languages, particularly specific version of each installed extension, DLL, library, plugin, configuration options. These, along with seemingly-unrelated applications all contribute to this unique environment.

Solutions to Performance Issues

Once an application reaches a sufficient level of complexity, these environmental idiosyncrasies can start to have an effect on performance.

Here are 5 of the more conventional solutions to dealing with this problem:

  1. Write better software
  2. Create and maintain duplicate environments
  3. Segregate apps
  4. Use virtual machines
  5. Extensive Research

But, how do these solutions work in practice? Let's look a bit deeper.

Write Better Software

This seems like a noble direction to head in — trying to write perfect software code that somehow doesn't conflict or collide with other software. Software that doesn't rely on outside dependencies, and is backward compatible with older versions of things. The problem is that this is actually impossible in real life.

Maintain Duplicate Environments

Usually, there will be a production environment and then a test and/or development server that is cloned from production.

New versions are tried out in a non-public environment before being deployed to production. Assuming the environments are truly identical, this at least gives developers the chance to see if there are any problems.

Segregate Apps Onto Different (Virtual) Machines

If a company is running multiple web applications, they will often have each one running in its own machine (real or virtual) in order to minimize or eliminate the problem of conflicting needs - two apps needing different versions of the same library, for example.

Virtual Machines for Development

Docker Virtual Machines
Docker machine and VM guide.

Most developers work locally on their laptops or desktop computers. Since that environment is filled with applications and multiple versions of things (due to typical personal-use practices), some developers will isolate app development into special-purpose virtual machines, often mirroring (as much as possible) the production environment.

Often, a combination of these strategies is employed; we try to write better software while segregating production environments for separate apps, and cloning test environments onto our local virtual machine.

Extensive Research

Thinking of reinventing the wheel? Sometimes it's great to make your own ketchup, but software isn't always the place to start. Similarly to striving for better software, doing thorough research before deploying anything is vital.

Moreover, you can save yourself time and money by doing so, alongside the avoidance of future complications.

The Problem with Conventional Solutions

Conventional solutions are either not independent enough, or are so independent that they create an onerous amount of overhead and bulk.

Cloned Environments and Virtual Machines

From the above solutions, the best option would be to have a virtual machine on the local development computer for each app being worked on and to use the same exact virtualization technology on the test and production servers.

The environment would need to be cloned down from production to test to development for each development cycle, and cloned back up for each deployment. That is a huge inconvenience and is not consistent with typical rapid development methodology — not to mention that none of this works well for an application that needs to be packaged and distributed for customer use.

What is Containerization?

Containerization is something like a middle-ground between the mess of natural computing environments and rigidly segmented virtual machines.

Containerization in Layman Terms

Docker Containers
The Docker website is filled with details of its containerization features.

There's a perfect analogy here to shipping. On the one hand is a giant cargo ship in which each small piece of cargo is packed into the hold and everything can slam into everything else and it all has to be loaded and unloaded by hand.

On the other hand is a multitude of individual boats, one boat for each piece of cargo. The best solution is somewhere between these two: interchangeable, self-contained storage and shipping units which can be loaded easily onto many different types of transportation, from giant cargo ship to railroad.

How Software Containers Work

A software container has a copy of the primary application, as well all dependencies — libraries, languages, frameworks, and everything else. The containerization system provides APIs to the operating system so that the interface between the container and the OS on one machine is the same as the interface between them on another machine.

This means that an app that runs in a container on a local development machine can be deployed easily onto another server by simply copying the entire container — moving it like a shipping container from boat to dock — without having to worry about environmental configuration details or installing dependencies.

Different Versions of the Same Libraries

Several different contained apps on the same machine might be using different versions of the same libraries, or might have other conflicting dependencies. That's okay because they are separated from each other.

This does end up potentially using up more storage space (because of the need of having multiple copies of some things on the same machine). Even so, this is a negligible cost in comparison to the benefits.

Things to Consider About Docker

Docker Hosting - Things to Know

Docker is one of the leading containerization technologies. It is Open Source and can run on any Linux environment with a modern kernel. In other words, all you need is a host that will let you in the areas necessary to get the program running. That is to say, a majority of VPS and dedicated servers (if you're not sure, ask!).

Before we look at some options, let's summarize a few benefits of using Docker with your hosting plan:

  • Simplicity and configuration with ease
  • Reduced deployment time
  • Security and isolation
  • Multi-cloud platforms
  • Saving costs

In the meantime, I'll talk you through a few options that would make sense to dig into further.

Shared Hosting for Docker

If you're dealing with shared hosting, things might get a bit more complicated. Some shared servers come with Docker pre-installed or as part of a one-click install. But this seems to be rare, so you may be better off upgrading to VPS should you wish to use containers.

Linux Hosts for Docker

Other than that, your focus should be simply on finding a great Linux host that suits the needs of your project. Developer-friendliness (obviously) and a fair bit of resources at a low price are the general qualities of a perfect Docker host.

Docker is Taking Over the Virtual Machine World

Docker has done well for itself, essentially creating a mini virtual machine. Before containers, you might have needed to wait for a virtual machine to boot. Running virtual machines requires a lot of resources, driving up your hosting fees.

And don't forget trying to develop an application while dealing with the variety of bugs even the tiniest difference in software can cause. Virtual machines softened this issue, but their weight on servers cause even more problems.

Are Containers the Future?

But that's all a thing of the past. Virtual machines, of course, are still invaluable tools, but no longer do they need to be applied in situations where they don't belong. Docker is a much more fitting tool to use.

While it does have its own problems, the avid community has done its best to minimize them and provide even more functionality to a program already so versatile. Plugins can run the gamut from image/container management to volume plugins to networking and connections.

Alternatives to Docker

If even then Docker doesn't seem right, there are other options out there. Vagrant, a software that works with many virtual machines, can run a Windows environment on Mac or Linux. While none have quite the same popularity, Docker alternatives are everywhere.

Whether you choose a container, a virtual machine, or maybe even both, you're going to need a powerful Linux server to host it on -- one that has lots of options available and even more developer tools to work with.

Docker Pros and Cons

Containers VS Virtual Machines: Who Wins?

While Docker runs flawlessly for many apps, virtualization software like VirtualBox VM competes with it in many aspects. Though they fill many of the same niches, containers do some things a virtual machine can't, and vice versa. To be short, if you need to run many applications and operating systems, sticking with the time-honored VM is best.

Pros

  • Allows for app development and testing in a controlled environment
  • Faster and more lightweight than VMs by a mile
  • Often easier to set up than an entirely virtual environment
  • A server can host more docker images than virtual machines, reducing workload and cost of extra servers
  • Community support; dedicated coders have crafted programs that address issues from the difficulty setting up networking to the limited OS support.

Cons

  • Though generally easier to work with than VMs, can still be difficult to use
  • Not great at running multiple applications (use a virtual machine)
  • Limited support for non-Linux applications
  • Difficulty using containers of different operating systems on one server
  • VMs present fewer security issues as they are more isolated

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