Case Study

PlushForums compares cloud hosts' price-to-performance, chooses Linode.

PlushForums builds "beautiful, modern discussion forums, for everyone." The platform features real-time discussions, an integrated blog, member directory, private messaging, PayPal subscriptions and a world-class mobile experience. Users technical knowledge is not mandatory; plug-in installation eliminated.

With subscriptions starting at $49 per month, users get a professionally hosted service that's fast, secure, and ready to use in two minutes.

PlushForums founder/CEO Adrian Flitcroft graciously responded to questions for this case study.

Challenge

For a global market, PlushForums needed to minimize downtime, maximize system reliability and speed, and enhance its website's agility and robustness while sustaining the integrity of its clients data, all at a competitive price point.

Solution

Enlist Linode's simplified IaaS, complemented with its API, Images data preservation and cloning tool, best-in-the-industry customer service, and dependable automated backups.

Results

Profitable price-to-performance ratio achieved. Zero downtime, 44.3 percent more requests per second processed, data preserved automatically.

"We use the Linode API and Images feature to create a new server for every single customer, in a geographically optimal location for them. As a result, they get more dedicated resources, lower latency and greater resiliency."

Situation:

Before virtualization, self-funded start-up companies like PlushForums would have had to build and maintain a monolithic computing architecture in a single location and most likely subscribe to a pricey Amazon Web Services to achieve a public-facing cloud presence. The overall cost could prove prohibitive. The threat, great.

No matter how well an application could be segmented into services and components, if that infrastructure "silo” failed, it failed for all customers simultaneously.

The cloud seemed to be the answer. Spreading risk across numerous virtual servers located in diverse regions should alleviate catastrophic downtime for a start-up. However, until data centers spanned the globe, cloud customers in Europe, Asia or the Middle East would incur extended latency for having to rely on only North American data centers.

Nevertheless, cloud computing's inception became a fanfare for cost-effective computing performance and assured uptime. But this hasn't always been the case. Still and a bit ironically, many hosting companies pay dearly for annual subscriptions for cloud access, data integrity and reliable system performance. IT budgets bloat, which can sink many shoe-string budget start-ups.

Founder Adrian Flitcroft and the gang at PlushForums wanted to avoid those pitfalls to which digital start-ups can be disposed.

To capitalize on the advantages inherent with the cloud, the PlushForums team established four mission critical objectives, including:

  • Immediate, positive cash flow generation. PlushForums sought a means to scale its business without capitalizing large and bulky infrastructure overhead.
  • As a global forum platform, PlushForums also required geographically diverse points of presence, to ensure minimal latency.
  • Responsive and impeccable customer service with as little manual intervention as possible, to sustain automation of new deployments and onboarding.
  • Customer data integrity. PlushForums can't emphasize and demonstrate enough its commitment to protect and preserve its customers' data.

Achieving these objectives, PlushForums recently completed a successful beta-test period and is now in full production with clients in North America, Europe and Asia.

Challenge:

Flitcroft asserted that the challenge to any successful, small start-up is to make its operations more "robust in the most cost-effective and agile way” than those of rivals in the marketplace. Thus, PlushForums aims to deliver an exceptional service for a low price; maintaining an economical and competitive price-to-performance ratio would be key.

"We were looking for the hosting company with the best price-to-performance ratio that also met our feature requirements," confided Flitcroft. It was imperative, then, for PlushForums to find a cloud-host that offered:

  • Servers with enough RAM at key price points. ("Low-end boxes are not an option for a customer's demanding application and its associated services," says Flitcroft.)
  • An API and "snapshot system” that allows PlushForums to completely automate its deployment and monitoring of customer servers. (Preferably, new servers should be deployed and addressable in two minutes or less.)
  • Reliable, in-house, automated backups. PlushForums resorts to AWS' S3 as its primary backup. But for added redundancy, PlushForums wanted a vendor with an in-house backup system. ("After all," declared Flitcroft, "we're not using a cloud service only to maintain our own connectivity and hardware for backup purposes.")

Solution:

Linode's API and Images data preservation tool help effectively manage infrastructure. It's RAM amount, CPU capacity and I/O performance at desired price points deliver a favored and scalable benefit/cost ratio for start-ups needing cloud services. And its automatic backups feature preserved customer data independent of human intervention.

Results:

According to Flitcroft, end users are very demanding and the private server market is highly competitive. After thoroughly researching the market, PlushForums found only a handful of companies able to supply optimum performance at an affordable price. Linode was one of them.

"Primarily," Flitcroft wrote, "Linode met our minimum RAM requirements at all key price points." His additional research determined that Linode's CPU and I/O performance exceeded all competing services at those same price points. This cost-performance ratio helped make PlushForum's choice "that much easier."

"Pricing and performance at Linode – and other top-tier VPS providers – has given start-ups like us a new way to scale our business," asserted Flitcroft.

Linode's API is a programmatic interface that automates sysadmin tasks like creating users and restricting permissions. Linode's Images is a newly launched data preservation tool. PlushForums has found additional value in both features.

Flitcroft's staff considers the Images add-on as convenient containers for those apps that facilitate development and deployment. Such disk "snapshots” enable a user to freeze an entire stack at any point and retain the master image for future use. This constitutes an intuitive and agile way of managing infrastructure, according to Flitcroft, who further insisted, "Only a few cloud companies do snapshots/Images well. The fact Linode Images works so well really smoothed the way for us."

And that's important. PlushForums can't afford to lose its customer's images; to do so might impede new customer deployments. Sure, Flitcroft's staff could reconstruct an image, but at the expense of time and money.

"If (a cloud host) can't offer redundancy on image storage, I would like to be able to download them for offline storage," Flitcroft wrote. Fortunately, Linode satisfies PlushForums' demand for an in-house back-up system -- complemented by Images.

"We use Linode's API and Images to create a new server for every single customer - in a geographically optimal location for each," wrote Flitcroft. "As a result, each of our customers gets more dedicated resources, lower latency and greater resiliency."

For PlushForums users, this infrastructure model means its price plans are cheaper, while its systems are faster and offer more storage than marketplace competitors. That's good for PlushForums customers, and good for a start-up, like PlushForums.

"I won't rule out alternative architectures as our business evolves," states Flitcroft, "but using VPS servers in the manner we're doing is exceptionally well-suited to bootstrapping a company."

To finally decide which of the handful of cloud hosts would be selected by PlushForums, Flitcroft's crew assembled its application stack on equivalent servers across a range of vendors. The primary benchmark measured involved disabling caching on the web-server layer and measuring requests per second for a variety of typical pages, averaged over 10 runs. The result? Linode delivered 44.3% more requests per second than the equivalent DigitalOcean server. Flitcroft wrote, "Linode's results were also much more consistent, with the longest request taking half the time of the DigitalOcean server, on average."

Furthermore, Flitcroft states, "We've had zero minutes downtime so far and I desperately hope we can keep it as close to zero as realistically possible."

"Now, we've made our decision and launched on Linode, everything becomes about uptime and reliability."

As for PlushForum's current system status, "We can only truly judge our results in the long-term, but we're pleased with performance and uptime so far," declared Flitcroft.