Regular readers know I recently started up The Advisory Panel, a forum to allow Internet Marketers and others looking to make money online a place to network.

This was my first forum launch, and I wanted to share one of the technical bits I’ve discovered that came as a surprise.

Discount web hosts will generally provide you with some number of MySQL databases for your monthly fee. For example, at Site5, you get unlimited MySQL databases. A forum takes up only one database, so I figured I’d host the forum on my Site5 account.

Before I go on, let me say that I run about half a dozen WordPress web sites off my one Site5 $5 a month hosting account. And I’m not even close to hitting the bandwidth and disk space limits on the account. For anyone running multiple blogs, I’d highly recommend Site5.

The server I’m on there has been having some odd MySQL problems now and then, and that’s led me to further investigate some of the database statistics on the account. It turns out that there’s a maximum number of connections any one application (e.g. forum or WordPress blog) can have on the database at one time. For WordPress blogs with caching, this isn’t a big deal…most people are not actually doing anything to need the database at any one time. They go to your site and spend most of their time reading, and only a little time going from post to post. Many don’t even click past the front page where your most recent posts are shown.

But for a forum, there’s quite a bit more clicking around to see different threads. As the number of members online at any one time grows, the limiting factor is the number of database connections the forum can make at one time. Go above that number, and your forum shows MySQL errors instead of content.

At Site5 that maximum is 15. Since most people at a forum still spend a lot of time reading, I’d say that 15 connections could support 100 members online at once. The Advisory Panel hasn’t hit that number yet, so this isn’t an issue, but if you’re planning on building a forum into a large membership, you’d do well to pick a web host that has a higher figure.

Other discount web hosts give you 20, or 30, maximum connections. Better, but still not great. In my research for a place to move The Advisory Panel as it grows, I’ve found only one web host that doesn’t arbitrarily limit the maximum number of connections. Hosting Matters allows a forum to use as many connections as the machine will allow, subject to the fact that these are shared hosting accounts. If your forum starts to use too many connections and adversely affects the other sites on the server, then you’d be expected to upgrade to a dedicated server.

Keep in mind that I haven’t actually used Hosting Matters, so can’t comment on quality of service, uptime, etc. But just from the perspective of supporting a high traffic forum, it seems like a good place to try.

And if you’re planning on running a forum at a different web host, find out what their maximum number of SQL connections is before starting the forum.

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