What is a PaaS?
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platforms have been game-changing for small, rapidly iterating teams since Heroku popularized the idea in the late 2000s. As web frameworks have advanced, PaaS tools have evolved alongside them, allowing lean teams to build more and more complex apps and sites without the need for DevOps engineers, or deep knowledge of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Docker, or Kubernetes.
Platforms like Netlify and Vercel now host millions of sites, from simple prototypes to large, high-traffic enterprise sites, and are constantly evolving to be able to serve an even larger chunk of the market.
Netlify and Vercel now host millions of sites, from simple prototypes to large, high-traffic enterprise sites, and are constantly evolving to be able to serve an even larger chunk of the market.
Netlify and Vercel Features
Both PaaS platforms have a similar feature-set, and generally work in a similar way with a broad swath of web frameworks including Next.js, Gatsby, Svelte, and Nuxt.js. Here are some of the features:
Automated builds and deployments
Both provide a simple workflow of building, packaging, and deploying web applications tied to a git push command, making the deployment flow as simple as it could possibly be.
Built on top of technologies like AWS Lambda, they each offer platforms to host your API endpoints as simple serverless functions, removing the need to manage servers at all. Pricing is generally very reasonable unless the APIs are extremely high traffic.
Both serve assets through their own global CDNs, and also provide CDNs at the edge for fast global computing. They have a fast global content delivery network to cache and serve your static assets around the world. This improves website performance.
Both offer free SSL certificates for your site out of the box. They also regularly renew them before expiry. Anyone who has ever had to deal with manual provisioning certificates understands how great this feature is.
If you need separate environments for previews, staging, and production, both platforms make this trivial to add.
What more can I say here? Turning DevOps problems into a few minutes of setup time and a git push command has saved probably weeks of my own time, personally. Multiply that times their many thousands of users.
In the meantime, Vercel had continued to ship major features to both Next.js and the Vercel hosting platform in unison at an incredibly rapid clip.
Why We Chose Vercel
Both platforms have an extremely similar feature set, and pricing sits at $20 per seat for both platforms as of mid-2023. Why did we start on Netlify in the first place and why did we make the jump?
Starting with Netlify
We started working with Netlify around the time that we started using Gatsby, as it provided extremely easy git-based deployments as well as a generous free tier with pay-as-you-go pricing. This allowed us to pass on projects to small and medium clients generally without an added cost, while Vercel only had a $20 per seat option.
As we moved on from Gatsby to Next.js as our framework of choice, Netlify had already begun to support Next.js at a pretty high level, so we stuck with it for a while.
Vercel and Next.js
In late 2020/early 2021, there was an inflection point where Next.js became a clearly superior option to Gatsby, allowing complex static builds as well as server-rendered applications.
It became “the everything framework” for us, meaning no matter whether we worked on a simple static marketing site, headless eCommerce site, serverless API, or small to medium-sized web app, Next.js felt like the right choice.
As I mentioned, Netlify felt like a viable platform for hosting Next.js apps for a while.
In 2022, due to the general feature parity, they removed their free tier and generally mapped their pricing almost exactly to Vercel’s.
In the meantime, Vercel had continued to ship major features to both Next.js and the Vercel hosting platform in unison at an incredibly rapid clip. With Next 12, they announced On-Demand Incremental Static Regeneration – something we got really excited about as it would help us drive a huge performance boost on one of our larger client’s sites.
We waited and waited, checking Netlify’s forums for progress, and it had been promised to be coming soon since February 2022. As of this writing (August 2023), it still hasn’t been rolled out.
In order to serve our clients best, we unfortunately could no longer rely on a platform that is constantly playing catch-up when it comes to technical features with major business implications.
Vercel is a Must for Modern Next.js Development
All developers (and SaaS customers) fear vendor lock-in, and it can be argued that the tight coupling of React, Next.js, and Vercel is anticompetitive and bad for the industry overall.
No doubt there will always be developers spinning up servers or navigating the labyrinthine dashboards of AWS and GCP to host their sites on Amplify or S3 – but as of right now it’s hard to argue with the rapid progress Vercel is making in tandem with Next.js.