Discussion forums are a useful way of providing support to your hosting customers. I believe they support forums should compliment an email ticket support system, not replace them.
They provide a place where members can discuss issues not directly related to their account. For example, general advice on website hosting, website development questions, marketing etc.
Discussion forums are also a useful way for potential customers to ask questions in a pre-sales discussion room.
bbPress is a simplistic forum solution that requires you to add a lot of additional plugins to add forum functionality which is standard on other forum applications.
In my opinion, bbPress is way too basic to be used as a support forum, however you may want to consider using it if the front-end of your hosting company is powered by WordPress (*bbPress is a WordPress plugin).
Invision Power Community Suite
The Invision Power Community Suite offers eight applications: Discussion forums, commerce, pages, downloads, calendar, gallery, blog, and live chat. The software works well together and looks very professional.
Invision Power Services (2002) was launched back in 2002. It started off as a free application but was soon sold on a premium basis and they later introduced a subscription business model for hosted customers.
If you choose to host the software yourself, the forum software will cost $75 with additional applications costing between $50 and $75 for each additional application. The price of online chat is dependant on the number of users. Five users are free whilst up to twenty users costs $10 every six months.
Their pricing structure for hosted customers is based on the number of online users. It starts from $30 per month for up to forty online visitors.
An open source forum solution that is free to download. MyBB has a clean user-interface and there are a number of themes and modifications available that can easily be applied to your forum to extend its functionality further.
A mobile-friendly forum application that has support for over fifty languages, social media integration, and a real-time notification system. It has a clean design and there are a lot of plugins available for the platform.
Pricing starts from $100 per month for up to 500,000 monthly impressions.
phpBB was once the most popular forum application on the internet. This was in part due to it being free at a time when better alternatives were premium. It continues to have a large devoted following to this day and is still free to download.
You will find thousands of themes and plugins available for phpBB, which is why many hosting companies decide to use it for their support forums.
Simple Machines Forum
Simple Machines Forum (SMF) is a powerful free forum application that is fast and easy to use. It is an application I still have a lot of fondness for because I used it for a few communities I used to run.
I highly recommend you check SMF out if you are looking for a good free forum solution.
Vanilla Forums is a fast, clean, and secure forum application. It has a fantastic design that makes it stand out from the competition.
The software is free to download if you want to host the forum yourself. Their hosted plans are expensive at $199 per month for up to 50,000 page impressions.
Launched in 1999, vBulletin was the leading online forum software for many years. I used them to build communities from 2001 to 2010.
The fifth version of the software retails at $249 with their mobile suite application costing a further $150. For that price you get a feature-packed piece of software that has everything you can think of. Blogs, polls, user permissions, and an advanced admin panel.
If you prefer, vBulletin can host your community with their vBulletin Cloud service. Plans start from $19.95 per month for 25GB of bandwidth and prices increase with usage.
Xenforo was developed by the lead developers of the most successful period of vBulletin’s life. When vBulletin was bought over, the developers formed their own forum software company called Xenforo.
The software is fast, secure, and SEO friendly. Which is why I use it to power all of my online communities. Take a look over at Rise Forums to see the software in action.
A license for Xenforo costs $140. Extensions are available for an additional fee, such as their media gallery and resource manager.