Setting up discourse for a small business: digital ocean? discoursehosting? or discourse.org?


(Dave McClure) #1

We are excited to try out discourse to communicate with our relatively small community of users, (usually employees of other businesses, professional freelancers) and partners. Think hundreds of users, not tens of thousands. Much of what we intend to do with the forum is to replace and supplement our existing channels for support, which is often not easy to fit into a ‘ticketing system’ because a lot of the support is discussion about what the best way to do something might be and which could benefit a wider audience in the future.

We are getting ready to say goodbye to Zendesk, and steer people away from emailing support@ and folks personal emails for supporting our professional movie and television post-production products going forward.

While I’m tempted to spin up a digital ocean box because it might be fun, I’m not sure I want the responsibility and our own development team and engineers already have enough on their plates with the details of our business. It took us far too long to get rid of our own mail server, and no one is looking forward to going back to those days.

So I’m likely to get convinced (or perhaps I’ll convince myself) that DIY isn’t the right solution for the company, but I’m still open to considering it at the moment.

If going to a hosted solution, I’m on the fence with heading to discoursehosting.com vs waiting to see where pricing lands for the service the team here will be offering though.

Curious to hear peoples opinions below or via PM.


(Jonathan Headen) #2

I’ve just started a free trial with discoursehosting - 2 days in and this is my opinion

  • Setup was very easy, plus they manage upgrades & backups so as you say it’s one less thing I need to manage
  • Performance seems good (but that’s only 2 days observation)
  • I’ve got some issues with mails being picked up as spam, working through this with their support team. They don’t support Mandrill on the basic plan so that might be an issue going forward.

(Michael - DiscourseHosting.com) #3

FWIW regarding Mandrill and email delivery:

Yes, email delivery directly to Gmail inbox is hard - and they made it hard on purpose.

At this moment, we require customers to get their own Mandrill account, and it’s only supported on Pro and Business plans.

However, we are seriously investigating including Mandrill email delivery in all plans - without the need to get your own Mandrill account, and for no extra charge. More about this in the coming week.


(Craig Oda) #4

@mcwumbly, first I am dying to know why you are saying goodbye to Zendesk. My friend used to be a high-level executive there and the company has a lot of buzz. He left, so maybe there are some problems with the product? Would love to hear about it and why you’re moving to Discourse. Feel free to PM me if you don’t want to share the reasons in an open forum.

I have two instances of Discourse on Digital Ocean. Although I am not a developer and don’t do any technical work, I have used Linux for 20 years, primarily as a hobby. I don’t know anything about Ruby, Docker, CSS. For a guy like me, the installation was painless both times. From start to finish, it took about 45 the first time, and about 30 minutes the 2nd time. No hitches. I am using mandrillapp. Just to show you my lack of experience with this, it was only after the 2nd install that I realized that I could ssh into a Docker container.

On one of the droplets, my entire droplet crashed a few days after deploy. I don’t know why. I had to shutdown the droplet and then reset the root password. During the install, I was getting some uneven performance. Both are working fine now. This does cause me on anxiety. If there’s a problem with Discourse there will be no one for my client to call. With DiscourseHosting of Discourse.org, you have some reassurance that a professional can figure out how to get things back up.

I have the $10/month instance for both. For one of droplets, cost is not a factor.

My plan is to present the client with different options, including the three that you mention. As part of the proposal, I’ll show them the prototype community on Digital Ocean. The main reason I chose that is because of the documentation on this forum and I wanted the experience of installing Discourse from source. I suspect that the client will start the campaign with something like Digital Ocean and then move it over to Discourse.org if the campaign is successful, though I really don’t have a good feel for what they would choose. The success criteria is going to be about 20,000 page views a month, ramped up over some time period.

I just went to the DiscourseHosting.com site and see that they have a free trial. Can I get this up without a credit card? Maybe I’ll set up both DigitalOcean and DiscourseHosting for the client so that they can compare the two.


(Michael - DiscourseHosting.com) #5

Your client is probably not going to notice the difference at first.
But as soon as you start to get some decent traffic, our $20 basic plan will perform better than a $10 DO droplet.

The question you need to ask yourself is: is it worth an extra $10 per month to:

  • make sure you get good performance
  • never worry about downtime or availability issues
  • never need to think about security
  • not needing another host for storing your backups
  • never have to spend time or need to struggle with updates?

Seems a no brainer to me :smile:


(Dave McClure) #6

It seems more optimized for a larger organization with a dedicated support staff.

We are a small team with people wearing many hats.

I think discourse will be a better fit but only time will tell.

I agree that this is a great reason to go with a hosted solution.

We have decided for the time being to run our own setup on a $20/ mo DO droplet using the basic docker install.

Partly this is because I am interested in following this project more closely at this time.

In the future we may switch to one of the hosting providers or we may find someone to help manage our DO setup (I received a few very reasonable offers via PM to my original request for this kind of service).

The better comparison would be to the $20 DO droplet. I think @codetricity, is just using the $10/mo setup to do demos for clients. Long term he probably wouldn’t recommend less than the $20 DO droplet given the discussions here on meta.


(Craig Oda) #7

@michaeld, thanks for the information. I really respect that you’re personally joining the discussion. I didn’t realize that you were president of DiscourseHosting. I am sure that this type of personal commitment will spread the reputation of DiscourseHosting, which is already good. These are all great points you make. The cost for the client is no problem. They’re spending a lot more on marketing campaigns, so anything under $100/month is pretty trivial. I’m actually not quite sure what they will base their decision on. I’m talking to the marketing people and they can make the decision on what software to use. For example, they have more influence to pick Discourse. However, to actually choose the deployment option, they’ll need to talk to their IT department.

I am just showing them the concept of their brand forum on Digital Ocean so that they can make a decision. It’s not intended for deployment. Though, I realize that it could be a deployment option if they pointed their DNS to the droplet.

I’ve already sent the marketing people the links to DiscourseHosting.com two weeks ago. So, they’re familiar with this option. I’ll also put this option in my report.


(Michael - DiscourseHosting.com) #8

The only reason for not choosing us would be the $10 price difference. If you compare the $20 DO droplet to our basic plan, there really isn’t any good reason not to choose us :smile: (except if you want to do development of course).


(Jonathan Headen) #9

Update to my earlier comment; I’ve just had mandril set up. It’s working fine so I’m happy.
The real pro of using hosted discourse is that you don’t need to manage it yourself. Some people may want to have the full control & tinkerability that DO offers, but others may not want the hastle of another system to manage. Personally I was swayed by the fast path to having the forum up, running and managed for the same price as the minimum recommended DO offering


(Paul) #10

Hi, I’m curious to know what hosting setup you ended up with and what specs it has, and how you feel about it now


(Dave McClure) #11

We ended up just self-hosting it on Digital Ocean, which worked just fine for our purposes, but I’ve since moved on and can’t comment authoritatively on the current specs or how it’s going (though the site is still running and active, so I’m guessing it’s likely still humming along).

I’ve also used discourse.org hosting and would recommend it in other circumstances (at the time this topic was created, they didn’t offer the lower-cost plans they do now. If they had at the time, I likely would have advocated just going with one of those).