Designing A Hosting Platform Around High Availability, Low Cost

This is a guest blog post written and contributed by Luc Vezina, CEO of Vanilla Forums, a Rackspace Cloud Tools partner and Rackspace customer that offers cloud-based community forums.

Online forums have been around for a long time and they remain the best format for people to gather online around a common interest, brand or topic. While sites like Facebook get a lot of media attention, forums are the original social media and continue to grow and still make up significant amount of the Internet’s content and traffic.

When we built out Vanilla Forums’ hosting platform and switched to a SaaS offering, we needed it to be highly available – downtime is unacceptable – and be affordable.

Vanilla Forums was born when Mark O’Sullivan, one of Vanilla’s co-founders, was launching a forum for web designers and couldn’t find any forum software that would not offend a crowd of designers. So, he built his own and open sourced it. Fast forward a few years and Vanilla’s open source product has been downloaded nearly 600,000 times, and the company has transitioned to a SaaS provider of forum communities to hundreds of corporate, news and enthusiast websites.

Vanilla is a modern alternative to the legacy forum platforms that were introduced in the 90s. Vanilla has made forums more user-friendly, more engaging and easier to administer and moderate.

When we launched our SaaS offering, we needed to compete with self-hosted forum software not only on functionality, uptime and speed, but also by offering a better total cost of ownership. Could we use cloud servers to provide a high-availability service while keeping costs low? Keep in mind that when a forum goes down, it’s not just impacting one customer – it’s impacting thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the forum for information, support or social interaction. For example, one of our customers delivers a platform on which mobile games are built. When the community goes down, the work of thousands of developers can come to a screeching halt as they depend on the forum for support and feedback from peers.

With some help from Rackspace, we were able to design a hosting platform that met the specific needs of a forum application and that allows us to offer a solution at a lower TCO.

Going forward, as some of our larger customers start pushing the limits of cloud servers, we plan on adding physical servers to our infrastructure, creating a hybrid cloud/physical architecture which will allow us to continue offering a high quality service at a low cost. Pretty cool.

Bob Bardwell worked in Rackspace Corporate Development; his background includes financial statement and single audits. He enjoys golf, geopolitics, and networking.


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