It is common knowledge that Zoho (disclaimer: Zoho is the exclusive sponsor of Cloud Ave), the company offering SaaS applications to both consumers and businesses, uses open source for all their backend needs.
How is Zoho built on the back end? I wasn’t surprised to learn that it is built entirely on open source software and open standards. The server farm they use runs a highly customized version of Linux (CentOS), recently migrated to the 64-bit edition. They originally ran Debian, but were disappointed with the glacial pace of security updates and other fixes, and so switched away. Security on the back end was hugely important for them, and they weren’t comfortable with what they got from Debian in that regard. The rest of the stack consists of things that should be familiar to any open source guru — like MySQL and Tomcat.
The company is also contributing back the security fixes to the community in the spirit of open source. Recently, they started offering Zoho Discussions, their online forum like service, to open source community free of charge. So far, many of the open source communities are using forum software which they host on the webhost’s servers. Off late, some of the communities have moved to Google Groups. Google groups presented two problems for these communities.
- Branding was a problem. Google recently added groups to be part of the Google Apps for the domain but it is not available for Google Apps Standard Edition. Many communities didn’t want to pay for Google Apps premier edition.
- Spam was a big problem in Google groups.
Sometime back, Zoho announced the release of Zoho Discussions. In fact, it got the attention of many people because it was loaded with features that goes well beyond the ordinary mailing list or forum software. It is designed in such a way that it could as well serve as an excellent tool to connect with and engage customers, offer customer support, receive feedback about their product and services. It could also serve as an intranet and extranet enabling customer and partner communities. This feature packed offering from Zoho can serve as a handy tool for any community with deeper levels of collaboration. Open source, by its very nature, is entirely dependent on the huge number of geographically distributed participants. Zoho Discussions fits very well as a collaborative tool for these communities.
If any open source project needs a feature rich forum using the Zoho Discussions, they should contact Zoho and can get help for setting up their community. They offer an extensive free plan exclusively for the open source projects, as well as a deep discount on their advanced plans, in case if any project needs additional features. This free offer for open source projects is different from the free version Zoho currently offer to all their customers. They will custom fit the Zoho Discussions for the needs of the open source project and offer the best package suitable for the project. Check out this page for more information on their offering.
Recently, an open source project, jQuery, took advantage of this offer and switched their forums over to Zoho Discussions from Google Groups. jQuery had significant amount of data in Google Groups as well as mailing lists, approximately over 51K posts and over 116K responses. Zoho team helped jQuery move to Zoho Discussions. The interesting part about this move is that their forum has a theme that closely matches their website, something which they cannot get with Google Groups. jQuery put up a blog post on this explaining their reasoning behind the move.
- Zoho Discussions seamlessly integrates both regular, forum-style, discussions and Q&A. Additionally, all the moderation and administration tools are designed around building and managing a slick workflow for answering questions and concerns.
- The Discussions team at Zoho have been incredibly accommodating. They are not only providing all the hosting for free but going out of their way to fix concerns and integrate our full Google Groups back history. We’ve been working very closely with them, and they’ve fixed, or are fixing, every issue that we’ve brought forward
In short, it is a good move by Zoho. On one hand, this offers them a chance to give back to the open source community and on the other hand, this also serves as a pretty good marketing vehicle for them. For the open source community, they get a free, powerful, feature packed forum without any of the headaches associated with maintaining the forum software and the infrastructure. If you are part of any open source project, I strongly urge you to check out Zoho Discussions and see if it will fit the needs of your project community.