Firebase vs. Digital Ocean App Platform vs. AWS Amplify
Which bootstrap cloud stack should you choose?
Google Firebase, Digital Ocean App Platform, and AWS Amplify all seem to do the same thing - they exist to help you launch your app into the cloud as quickly as possible. But how comparable are they as a full-stack cloud service?
Here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know about the services, things to consider, and how each cloud platform impacts your short and long-term infrastructure and strategy.
But before we begin, there is a question that needs to be answered - are full-stack app platforms worth the time and investment?
Full-stack App Platforms and What Exactly They Do
Nowadays, it's not hard to launch something into the cloud. However, going beyond beginner tutorials can be a mission. There are multiple things to consider such as scalability, security, and accessibility.
Just because you can code, it doesn't mean that you're capable of doing infrastructure at an expert level. While it's arguable that we all have to start somewhere, sometimes going all-in on cloud infrastructure from scratch can be costly for the size and initial scale of your project.
In short, it can be a bit overkill.
This is where app platforms step in. Services like Google's Firebase, Digital Ocean's App Platform, and AWS Amplify offer quick solutions for developers that want to focus on developing the app rather than spend their time dealing with infrastructure and learning the operations side of development.
Common features of app platforms include scalability, fully managed security, identity services, integrated databases, and support for popular frameworks such as React, Angular, Vue, Next.js, Android, and iOS.
In short, when you're using an app platform, you are getting services that are created to fit together out of the box. The infrastructure is pre-configured and requires minimal understanding and setup to get started.
Google's Firebase has been around for almost a decade now. The idea behind the platform is to provide all that is necessary for launching scalable mobile and web applications rapidly.
Firebase is integrated with Google's other products such as Analytics and Cloud Storage and includes a proprietary database of the same name.
The process of using Firebase is fairly straightforward - you sign up for an account, upload your frontend or application to the Cloud Hosting portion of Firebase, set up your database and permissions, and that's basically it.
In addition to this, there are extensions that can be used to enhance your app with extra features such as sending messages, triggering emails, and implementing payment methods.
The ability to integrate with popular services such as Slack and Jira means that you can also build automation and bots through Firebase.
Firebase's pricing is based on a pay-per-usage model. The traditional model for cloud infrastructure is often based on the number of hours used. However, with the pay-per-usage model, it means that you can have your app up on the platform but it can remain in an active dormant state until required with no subscription fees or additional cost to you.
Digital Ocean App Platform
Digital Ocean's App Platform is the next contender for the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) space. However, unlike Firebase, Digital Ocean's App Platform is structured in a more traditional cloud manner.
In a way, this is a perk for Digital Ocean. The pricing for Digital Ocean's App Platform is fixed and fairly low. The terms are clear and there is no fuzzy area when it comes to the final bill. This makes budgeting for small and indie developers easier. You won't get an unexpected bill if there is a spike or inefficient usage of the database. For example, in 2018, a crowdfunding campaign went viral and ended up racking $30,356.56USD in 72 hours on Firebase.
No one wants that kind of bill attached to their account - especially in a startup context or single developer working on a side project.
With Digital Ocean's App Platform, you get given containers, which is basically your own little machine that you can scale up or down easily based on your chosen plan. It comes fully integrated with bits and pieces that are typically required such as pre-configured databases, storage, and automated app stack setups.
In a way, AWS Amplify is similar in concept and implementation to Google's Firebase. The major difference is that you're working with Amazon instead of Google-based services.
AWS Amplify, on a technicality, is a lot younger than Google's Firebase. Launched in late 2017, AWS is almost half its age when compared against Google's Firebase. However, the services that are provided by AWS are not new.
While Firebase can be seen as a stand-alone platform with integrations into Google's Cloud ecosystem, AWS Amplify is a repackaged set of resources that's already in existence. These services include CI/CD, push notifications, storage (via S3), data storage via DynamoDB, and static websites.
The pricing for AWS Amplify is split between the different services that you end up using. This means that unlike Google's Firebase and Digital Ocean's App Platform, there is no single price as such. You end up with multiple pricing tables to navigate through and different payment models to work with.
Firebase vs. Digital Ocean App Platform vs. AWS Amplify - which one is best?
When it comes to choosing between AWS and Google PaaS, there is a level of provider lock-in. This is because AWS uses DynamoDB as their data storage offering. In contrast, Firebase offers Firebase Realtime Database and Cloud Firestore. Your entire query layers will need to be catered to these service provider-specific databases. This means that if you want to switch providers or move your application out of the PaaS, you may find yourself too tightly coupled to either AWS or Google.
Digital Ocean doesn't have this problem. The application you build and launch to Digital Ocean's App Platform is expected to be service provider agnostic. In contrast, to achieve the same effect on Google's Firebase and AWS Amplify, you will need to go down the route of the traditional cloud infrastructure setup.
When it comes to pricing, Digital Ocean App Platform offers up the most certainty. Google's Firebase is predicated on the correct configuration of your API calls to your database. AWS Amplify is like using AWS under normal circumstances but repackaged under the Amplify hood.
So is there a clear winner?
The quick answer is yes. Digital Ocean seems like the best option to go with when it comes to launching an app. There is no application lock-in, and you're dealing with a more traditional approach to app creation.
Overall, whoever you end up with is dependent on your situation, short-term and long-term needs. If you are budget conscious, want certainty and space to just launch your app, then Digital Ocean might be the way to go.
Google Firebase and AWS Amplify do have their merits. If you're focused on building an app that is serverless and fully automated with scaling, Google Firebase and AWS Amplify may just be the right option for your situation. If you also have other apps within Google or AWS' ecosystem, integrating it with your deployed app may also be much easier than launching your MVP in a different space.
In the long run, there is no correct answer -- only an app that needs to be launched and adapted over time to your needs and your users' needs.