One of the questions I sometimes get asked by customers is why go with one of our commercial hosting plans (www.vanillaforums.com) when they can download the DIY-version and “host themselves”? My answer depends really on who I’m talking to. Usually (almost all the time) though I’m talking to a customer who is looking to have a public-facing forum for their customers or members. Even if it is a private forum, if it is being seen by the public it is a public-facing site. In that situation you need to look at what the cost would be if something went wrong (e.g. the site slowed down to a crawl or stopped working entirely). If you are using the forum to do support, answer questions and help your customers help each other out, how’s it going to look if that suddenly stops working or has an embarrassing bug on it? It’s not going to look good that’s what, and you are going to scramble to fix it at all costs, and by scramble I mean pay through the nose, either in your own internal time, the cost of external help or both. And let’s not forget the hit on your reputation.
The thing we learned through the years of supporting Vanilla is that 99/100 the problem is with the hosting environment, which is why we created the VanillaForums.com commercial hosting service, so that we could take care of the hosting, scaling and making sure all the moving parts work smoothly together, and you take care of growing and nurturing your community. With a forum there are a lot of moving parts, which makes it quite different from hosting something simple like a blog or a bunch of website files. And we get to cheat, we design our hosting environment for only one application, Vanilla Forums software, and we make the software so we know how it works intimately. As a result we can optimize the environment for that task and build in some advanced applications that are only available on that environment. We can’t make those available on the self-hosted because we’d need to design it to work on all hosts (including really crappy ones) instead of just on our proprietary hosting platform. It also means that we know how to add new plugins or addons that you request without messing up the whole system. We know how to test addons for security and stability before they get added.
Which gets back to the question of why sign-up for one of our monthly service plans when you can download the software to “self-host”. In short, because you want to avoid being “penny wise, pound foolish” (or penny wise, dollar foolish). While it may be enticing for some to feel they have save a few bucks a month on hosting, you are getting a lot more than simple hosting with our plans, and it won’t take long when something goes wrong on a self-hosted environment for you to eat up and surpass $149 or $549 a month. When you sign-up for a service plan you are buying a predictable monthly cost and peace of mind that everything will work as it should. That way you can focus on building your community, not on becoming a forum hosting expert.
These days the pace of change in every market is so fast that you can only really become expert at a very few things. Does it make sense for you to become an expert at hosting forums? No. Does it make sense to become an expert and growing and managing communities? Absolutely, yes. That is a skill that is valuable to you and any company you are with. It’s a skill that makes sense for you to have. Unless you work for a forum software company, being an expert at forum hosting is not a repeatable skill. So put your focus where you can create the highest value and leave the rest to us. We’ll make you very happy that you did.