Discourse hosting options (and how to chose one)

Discourse is awesome, but it can be hard for people without specific technical knowledge to get the most out of it. My clients hire me largely because I know how to bend Discourse to their needs. A critical decision that must be made from the start is how to host Discourse. Unlike many other services, Discourse is truly open source so there are many options.

Summary of the options

Option Monthly Cost Access Support Plugins
Discourse Basic $50 Invite-only Email support 14
Discourse Standard $100 Public Email support 16
Discourse Business $300 Public Priority email support 26
Communiteq Starter $20 Public Email support 14
Communiteq Professional $49 Public Email support 19
Communiteq Business $99 Public Email support Unlimited
Literate Computing Dashboard[1] $37 Public Expert support Unlimited
DigitalOcean Droplet[2] $12 Public Community support Unlimited
Amazon Lightsail[3] $10 Public Community support Unlimited

Discourse and Communiteq are traditional hosting services that take care of everything. DigitalOcean and Amazon just offer virtual servers and you’ll need to take care of installing and maintaining Discourse. Literate Computing sits in-between: Discourse installation and maintenance is included, but you’ll need to do a little work setting up DNS, a Droplet and Mailgun.

Discourse Basic is a little unusual in that it’s limited to 100 members who must be invited to join. It’s not open to the public, so it’s intended for small groups or for bootstraping a community. I’m offering a similar service at no cost, though I may find in the future that I will need to charge something. The big difference is that I’m only offering a group on this site whereas Discourse Basic offers an entire site, including support from their team. Honestly, this feels like an awkward offering given Communiteq offers substantially more for the same price.

Communiteq is a well regarded alternative. Obviously they have lower prices and are based in the European Union, which might be important for some communities. I don’t have any personal experience with them.

Nor do I have any experience with Amazon Lightsail. DigitalOcean is the default suggestion for Discourse servers.

Decision flowchart

flowchart TD
    Q1{{"`Are you comfortable using SSH?`"}}--Yes -->A1[Consider self-hosting]
    Q1 -- No -->Q2{{"`Are you ok with managing DigitalOcean, MailGun and your DNS?`"}}
    Q2 -- Yes --> A2[Literate Computing]
    Q2 --  No --> Q3{{"`Do you prefer support from the company that makes Discourse?`"}}
    Q3 -- Yes --> A3[Discourse]
   Q3 -- No --> A4[Communiteq]

  1. I calculated this based on $300 a year for the “Rebuilds When You Need” package, plus a $12/month Droplet. Might be a bit more if you send out a lot of emails. Jay also says a $6/month Droplet works for smaller sites. ↩︎

  2. You can pick different sizes for different costs. This is what I consider to be a minimum configuration. ↩︎

  3. Again this assumes at least 2 GB memory. ↩︎