Common Questions

  • How to join Bonsai's Slack channel for Heroku Sales

    Send an email to with the subject line “Heroku Slack” and our Slack Admin will promptly add you to our dedicated channel for Heroku Sales.

    From there you should receive an email inviting you into our Slack workspace, where you can create a new Slack account and join our #heroku-sales Slack channel.

    Do you know your Slack Admin?

    We would be more than happy to setup a “Shared Channel” in Slack that would allow you to jump into a Slack channel right from your Heroku Workspace, but need to know your Slack URL and the email address of a Slack admin at Heroku.

  • Good rule of thumb:

    If there is a search box in the app, your customers will need a search engine.

  • Why should my customers choose Bonsai as their Elasticsearch provider?

    Customers choose Heroku so they can launch and iterate their apps quickly, and scale on demand. Bonsai is the simplest solution for implementing powerful search capabilities into their apps. We’ve built our product to accommodate the needs of your customers.

    Bonsai is:

    1. The easiest Elasticsearch provider to get up and running. A production-grade cluster takes just minutes to deploy. Your customers will have much less to worry about rsecurity, performance, and scalability.
    2. Reliable and performant. We post 100 percent uptime almost every month. Every cluster deployed on Bonsai offers High Availability by default, which is unique to our platform.
    3. Supported by Search Experts. Unlike other companies, our support reps don’t have to read from scripts. Every ticket is answered by a developer who has deep knowledge and familiarity with Elasticsearch. We’ll do our best to ensure your customers’ success.

The Basics of Search Engines

  • What kind of apps are particularly reliant on search?

    A good rule of thumb: If an app has a search box, it will need a search engine.

    This includes, but is not limited to:

    • eCommerce apps
    • Marketplaces
    • Websites
    • Mobile apps
    • Logging apps
    • Knowledge Bases
    • Productivity tools
    • Social networks
    • Analytics tools

    ECommerce, marketplaces, social networks, and analytics tools are often heavy search users.

  • Why shouldn’t my customers just rely on a database for search?

    ACID compliant databases are great at keeping records secure and reliably accessible at all times. That being said, they’re not built to make those records discoverable to end users. Search engines are built for one use case, which is to accommodate the myriad of different kinds of queries from users.

    Why shouldn’t an app just use a database for search?

    1. Databases are very literal, and aren’t built for “fuzzy” searches. They are not built to accommodate the range of different search criteria that your users could choose.
    2. Features like spellcheck suggest, auto suggest, and pattern matching are not default to databases.
    3. The architecture of a search engine is custom made to return helpful results as quickly as possible.
    4. Search engines give developers the freedom to tune search results in a variety of different ways, including by age, relevance, margin, etc.
  • My customer mentioned “the ELK stack.” What is that, and can customers set it up on Bonsai?

    The ELK stack is composed of:

    • Elasticsearch, which is the underlying search engine technology
    • Logstash, which collects, parses, and stores logs for future use
    • and Kibana, which is used for visualizing data.

    Bonsai customers can deploy Elasticsearch and Kibana in seconds. Since not all users need Logstash, it can be integrated with Bonsai, but is not a default feature within our platform.

  • Why would a customer choose Elasticsearch over Solr?

    Solr is an older search engine based on Apache Lucene. It is robust, but not as easy to use as Elasticsearch. It also doesn’t have the community support or momentum.

    In case you have a customer who actively requests Solr, we will support it as well. You can send them to

  • Why should my customers choose Elasticsearch over other commercial options?

    Elasticsearch is by far the world’s most popular search engine for web applications. There are proprietary competitors, but none offer the kind of flexibility that Elasticsearch provides out of the box.

    Learn more about Elasticsearch at

The Basics of Bonsai

  • How is Bonsai’s architecture set up?

    Bonsai provides key security, reliability, performance, and logging features for every customer. Here is an overview of our platform.

  • Why is Bonsai a better solution for Heroku customers than AWS Elasticsearch/Swiftype/the Elastic Cloud/Algolia?

    Heroku users expect things to just work. While there are other search solutions that are easy to use, these solutions impose significant limitations on what a user can and cannot do with their search engine.

    Bonsai makes it easy to deploy a production-ready search engine, and then scale as an app requires. Unlike other search providers, we do not charge tens of thousands of dollars for basic security features or support. If you are working a deal, Bonsai’s team will answer the questions you have about our add-on. We prioritize your customers’ success.

    If you have questions about specific features, contact us at

  • Does Bonsai integrate with Heroku Postgres or Kafka?

    Not out of the box, but connecting Elasticsearch to either is rather trivial.

  • Does Bonsai integrate with other data providers like New Relic or Data Dog?

    Customers that choose an Enterprise plan can set up any custom integrations they would like.

  • Does Bonsai offer the ELK stack?

    Yes, Bonsai users can take full advantage of the ELK stack. Both Elasticsearch and Kibana are one-click installs, but Logstash must be set up separately. Many of our customers prefer to deliver their logs to other tools. Our enterprise plans can fully support this.

  • What is Bonsai?

    Bonsai is a platform that makes it easy to deploy, manage, secure, and scale Elasticsearch. Unlike other providers, the Bonsai platform has best practices built right in, allowing developers to focus less on setting up search engines, and more on the search experience itself.

Plans and Pricing

  • Why can Elasticsearch cost more than Heroku in some circumstances?

    Search engines generally ingest, store, and search considerable amounts of data, often in real time. This can take a lot of disk space and compute. Production search engines also require redundancy across multiple servers, which also adds cost. Each Bonsai cluster is replicated across two other nodes to ensure our customers’ search engines are up and running at all times.

    Bonsai has the most affordable managed high availability plans in the industry. Your customers can set up a production search engine starting at $50 a month.

  • What kind of plans does Bonsai offer?

    Bonsai offers four tiers:

    • Hobby: for hobby apps or projects that are just getting started. This includes free clusters, as well as clusters that are on our $10 plan.
    • Standard: This tier is ideal for newer startups. It includes all features required to run Elasticsearch in production, as well as email support during business hours.
    • Business: If an organization relies on Bonsai to support thousands of search users, they should choose a Business plan. They will have a lot more flexibility in their cluster configuration. This tier also comes with support seven days a week and access to an Account Manager on our team. Many larger startups, agencies, and enterprises who do not have compliance requirements choose this plan.
    • Enterprise: Customers with advanced compliance, performance, or support needs should choose an Enterprise plan. All clusters on this tier will be on dedicated servers that are monitored 24/7/365 by our team. These customers receive personalized onboarding and priority support from our Search Experts. They can also ask our team questions in their own private Slack channel.

    If you have any questions about what plan would work best for your customers, do not hesitate to contact us at

  • How do I price a Bonsai search engine for my customer?

    Many factors go into the price of an Elasticsearch cluster, including storage, performance, security, SLAs, and support. View our pricing page. If you are in doubt, contact us via our Slack Channel, or via email at

Hosting, Security, Compliance, and Uptime

  • Is Bonsai hosted on AWS?

    Yes, it is.

  • Does Bonsai run in same regions as the Heroku Common Runtime?

    Yes, in the US and in Europe.

  • Is Bonsai GDPR compliant?

    Yes, and we can sign agreements if required.

  • Do you offer HIPAA compliant options?

    Bonsai is not HIPAA compliant by default, but our Enterprise Clusters can certainly be set up to be.

  • Can my international customers choose to host data outside of the U.S.?

    Yes. Bonsai customers can host all of their data in the EU, South America, or APAC.

  • Is Bonsai available and/or installable in Heroku Private Spaces?

    Standard and Business plans are available to all Private Spaces regions. Enterprise plans are installable in Private Spaces.

  • Can customers deploy to multiple regions?

    Yes, Bonsai supports nine different AWS regions across the Americas, APAC, and Europe.

  • I’ve heard Elasticsearch can have security issues. How does Bonsai protect my customers for data breaches?

    AWS’s Elasticsearch service came under scrutiny after thousands of its Elasticsearch clusters were breached. These situations are entirely preventable, but often come because a customer is not familiar with securing it. The Bonsai platform protects customers from security breaches at multiple levels, by default, since day one. Your customers will not have to be familiar with best practices for each release. Read a detailed description of our security measures at our blog.

  • Does Bonsai have an uptime SLA?

    Free clusters have no SLA. Standard clusters have 99.9% Business and Enterprise clusters guarantee 99.99% uptime. Further SLAs are available upon request.


  • Can the team at Bonsai help my customer with their search engine’s architecture?

    Yes, our team can help. All Business and Enterprise customers will get architectural guidance from our team, as well as technical onboarding. We will also answer basic questions for any Bonsai user.

    If you have any questions about your customers’ search clusters, please reach out at

  • What does Bonsai’s Support SLA look like?

    There are varying levels of support on Bonsai. Enterprise customers will be able to communicate with our Search Experts via phone as well as a private Slack Channel. Please contact us at for a detailed description of our support SLAs within each tier.

  • I’m a Technical Consultant here at Heroku. Can I ask questions about Elasticsearch to the Bonsai team?

    Yes. Contact us at, and we will add you to a private Heroku/Bonsai Slack channel. We can also continue to communicate via email, or via phone if required. Just let us know what works for you.

Battle Cards

  • Algolia


    Search is a competitive advantage for giant sites like Pinterest, Amazon, and Netflix. Algolia is search for app developers who see search as a necessity, rather than a competitive advantage. If you actually want to build best-in-class search into your app using Algolia, be prepared to pay for it. The more advanced and secure your search engine is, the more it ends up costing.

    Algolia is:

    1. Fast
    2. Easy to use, and 3.) Easy to integrate.

    Algolia would honestly be more appealing had it started ​before​ Elasticsearch. Now, they’re just having to play catch up to a very vibrant open source project. Algolia touts that they are a “search platform,” but they aren’t even scratching the surface ​in terms of comparative popularity to Elasticsearch. They easily integrate with tools like Magento, Woo Commerce, WordPress, Heroku and more. While this may seem impressive, ​Elasticsearch integrates with more tools​. It has more advanced features, and will continue to gain more as the market matures. Any customer who chooses Algolia is locking themselves into a search engine than competes with the open source technology used by Etsy, Pinterest, Netflix, Spotify, and loads of other tech companies. Hmm…

    Algolia has a reputation for being expensive, which they recently combatted by ​releasing a version for $479/mo​. This offers more features than their starter plan, and honestly, you can’t really build a decent search engine without it. This plan gives you decent query rules that allow you to do stuff like boost certain results ( = free in Elasticsearch) based on IP address or profit margin.​ ​These are fairly standard things that search-based sites do. They give you control over how search results are sorted. You also get access to their API, which is what you’ll need if you want to do Kibana-style ( = free) reporting.

    So now into personalization and AI-based search, which is the secret sauce a lot of the cool kid tech companies are using to differentiate their products. This costs no less than $3500 a month, and requires an annual contract. You need this plan to build complex drill down search that allows for ​broader faceting​ ( = free in Elasticsearch with complex aggregations), or even serve results based on search history, account characteristics, or geography. Personalization sounds advanced, but it’s really not when you think about how prevalent it is. At that price, our team will actually hop in your Slack channel or on a call, and help you with Elasticsearch. That’s $42,000 a year. We will help you with architecture, and you’ll likely still have some money left over for custom development.

    Not only is the product itself expensive, Algolia forces you into the “Contact Us” tier just to get dedicated infrastructure and enterprise support. So safe to say, you will pay over $42,000 a year if you care about enterprise hosting/support that you can get from Bonsai for $14,000 a year.

    This is particularly important in the banking and healthcare sectors, who will likely require dedicated infrastructure but may not want to pay this much simply for search.


    If your team:

    1. Doesn’t see search as a competitive advantage you are willing to build,
    2. Is willing to pay at least $6000 a year for decent search, and $42,000 for dedicated and/or personalized or advanced search,
    3. Will take straightforward documentation/ease of use over more capabilities,
    4. Doesn’t want to even think about infrastructure or sharding,
    5. Thinks a proprietary search engine that is a few years old can compete with a vibrant open source technology that is ten years old,

    Algolia is for you. If not, stay away.

    Have a look at Algolia’s detailed feature set at the ​bottom of this page​.

    Key Phrases to Keep Customers Off of Algolia:

    “What features are you looking to incorporate in your search engine?” → find equivalent in ES “Do you foresee your team planning to customize or test your search configuration?” “Have you looked at how much those features cost in Algolia’s pricing model?”



    1. The easiest way to get powerful functionality out of search.
    2. Awesome, easy to read documentation.
    3. Completely hosted. Customers don’t even need to understand sharding.


    1. Proprietary and not as robust as Elasticsearch.
    2. You basically have to sell your firstborn just to get the functionality that Elasticsearch offers for free.


    Turnkey powerful search


    Bonsai takes the pain out of Elasticsearch. Why pay for a proprietary search engine when the open source version is better?

    Pricing Comparison

    Not really an apples to apples comparison. Basically, you pay not to have to learn anything about search.

    Their Target Market

    Mostly front end developers. Algolia is popular in the JavaScript community.

    Market Presence

    Gaining traction, especially among front end developers.

    Quick Tips

    Point out how much you have to spend just to get basic stuff already in Elasticsearch. Algolia is slick, but a simple Google search of “Elasticsearch (feature)” shows that Elasticsearch does everything it does, and much more.

    How to Win

    Do the math. You can get the basics out of Bonsai for much less. You can also get advanced features with the help of our team, and still save money. Have Dan, Dru, or Rob hop on a call to highlight Elasticsearch’s capabilities.

    When to Walk away

    When a customer sees search as a pain to solve rather than a competitive advantage, and doesn’t care about the lost opportunities of choosing a much more robust technology.

  • AWS Elastic


    Amazon released their own version of Elasticsearch in 2015. While they were ​criticized early on for not supporting features like node-level metrics and VPC, they have since added these features.

    AWS Elasticsearch is not ideal for a search or DevOps newb who “doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” AWS does not set up Dual DNS out of the box, and they don’t have security built in. For this reason, ​thousands of AWS users’ Elasticsearch clusters​ were hacked in a ransomware attack. They support metrics via Cloudwatch, but you ​have to know what to pull in from their API​. You have to know ​what instance types to pick out​ when you sign up. This is not a task for the faint of heart. AWS also forces you to pick all of your instance types, security, and AZ settings upfront as soon as you sign up. It’s like they’re expecting that you’re moving from some other service.

    Out of the box, AWS does not come with support. Customers can add their ​own support packages based on their spend​. The more you spend, the faster their incident response is, and the more access you receive to Elasticsearch experts. AWS has a tiered support system. Your ticket is only escalated to an expert if required. You can get ​Trusted Advisor​ checks, but these are not Elasticsearch experts — these are AWS experts. How can they help you with shard counts? Will they understand the Elasticsearch features that will make your index more efficient? Unlike Bonsai, you will not receive any guidance at all unless you pay for a business tier support package, which is $100 a month. You don’t get onboarding. You will not get enterprise support unless you spend $15,000 a month on AWS.


    AWS is good for the “Search Expert” who has a deep familiarity with Elasticsearch, distributed systems, and AWS. It is also good for giant customers who can afford expensive AWS support contracts. It could be a liability for developers who are “Search Pragmatists,” who would likely not want to spend their time securing, managing, and scaling Elasticsearch. Elasticsearch is a massively distributed system — it’s best to leave the hosting to the experts!

    Key Phrases to Keep Customers Off of AWS

    “Sure, you can save some money moving to AWS, but you’ll have to spend a lot of time learning and managing Elasticsearch instead of building your app/company.” “Bonsai has been managing search engines since 2009. Elasticsearch is an afterthought for AWS. You literally have to spend $15,000 a month before you get the expertise we’ll give you for $600 a month.”



    1. Integrates with Amazon products like Cloudwatch and Kinesis.
    2. Pricing is highly configurable based on need. Customers can pay anywhere from $13 to hundreds of thousands per month


    1. Not easy to use for developers who are not experts at Elasticsearch and AWS.
    2. Support tickets are not immediately sent to ES experts like they would at Bonsai and Elastic.


    Elasticsearch that plays well with other services on AWS.


    Elasticsearch managed by people who are not ES experts.

    Pricing Comparison

    AWS ES is always cheaper than we are. As a customers’ search cluster grows, this cost difference magnifies. To use AWS ES though, you have to have a DevOps and an Elasticsearch Engineer (= $100k+ a year).

    Their Target Market

    AWS power users

    Market Presence

    “The elephant in the room.” Their Elasticsearch product gets more ​search volume on Google​ than both us and Elastic combined.

    Quick Tips

    If a customer has many years of experience with AWS AND ES, we’ll likely lose the deal. If he or she has built massively distributed systems, he or she will likely be okay with AWS ES. If not, engage Dru or Rob to kindly test the customers’ knowledge and confidence.

    How to Win

    1. Find out how familiar a customer is with AWS and Elasticsearch.
    2. If they are not familiar with both, steer them away from AWS Elasticsearch.

    When to Walk away

    When a customer is comfortable with AWS, AND he or she is knowledgeable about Elasticsearch best practices, or is very willing and has the time to get there.

  • Elastic On Prem


    Elastic is very big on selling not just Elasticsearch, but “The Elastic Stack.” The Elastic Stack is composed of:

    • Elasticsearch
    • Logstash
    • Kibana
    • X-Pack

    The ELK components of this package are free and open source. It is only X-Pack that must be purchased. So when we sell against this solution, we are selling 1.) our service against their service 2.) our features against X-Pack, 3.) our uptime and performance and 4.) price.

    So how do we stack up?

    For customers who are fully committed to Elasticsearch, on-prem Elastic is a good bet. But they must be fully invested. They have to be committed to setting it up and maintaining it. They have to know how to scale it. Elastic has ​classes for all of this​ that come with a hefty price tag ($400 for a single course), or, a company can purchase an annual subscription.

    Elastic doesn’t sell just support. They sell support with X-Pack (features listed ​here​). This is $4400 per node for gold, and $6600 for platinum. This isn’t just incidence response (although that is a part of it) — Elastic is offering “Ask Me Anything” kind of support for this price. Customers can choose X-Pack with our dedicated option, but they would be purchasing support twice. An entire article about X-Pack is coming soon.


    If a customer is ready to dedicate resources to hosting Elasticsearch, AND has the money/time to familiarize themselves with X-Pack’s features, AND has the money to pay this kind of pricing for support, Elastic is a great option. Enterprises that are willing to throw down big cash for “big data capabilities” will be hard sells. An Elastic customer has to be “full in” though. This option takes a lot of time/money.

    Key Phrases to Keep Customers Off of Elastic On-Prem

    “What do you need in X-Pack?” (we may have comparable features that they just don’t know about. “Is your DevOps team prepared to host Elasticsearch?” “How familiar is your team with Elasticsearch or distributed systems?”



    1. Support from the makers of Elasticsearch.
    2. X-Pack gives customers a variety of useful tools for Elasticsearch.


    1. Expensive. $4400 per node on a production cluster is over $13k a year.
    2. A lot to set up, and a lot to learn. Requires dedicated Ops and management resources


    Best in class features/support from the makers of Elasticsearch.


    It’s good, but only if you have the time and resources to fully invest into Elasticsearch.

    Pricing Comparison

    Not really an apples to apples comparison. We manage servers for you, but don’t offer all the features in X-Pack.

    Their Target Market

    Enterprise, enterprise, enterprise!

    Market Presence

    Goes without saying.

    Quick Tips

    Figure out how much bandwidth they have to host their own instance of Elasticsearch, as well as which features they need in X-Pack.

    How to Win

    1. Sell the features that we have that are similar to X-Pack.
    2. Price. If they aren’t committed fully, they’ll be wasting their money.

    When to Walk away

    When a customer seems fully committed to investing budget and headcount for Elasticsearch.

  • Swiftype


    Swiftype​ started as a SaaS service on top of Elasticsearch. It essentially obfuscates the complexity of Elasticsearch. Elastic ended up buying their service. They have two key offerings:

    1. Site Search, which is essentially what Google Site Search was.
    2. App Search, which competes with us.

    Elastic packages it all up under the name “​Site Search​” on their site. They are two very different products with different use cases. We’ll focus on App Search.

    App search would be likely be what Bonsai customers would look at here. Users get a simple UI to load in their index, create synonyms, facets, etc. It is an experience that is custom catered for app developers who want to use key features in Elasticsearch, but don’t want to have to learn anything about infrastructure. Unlike Bonsai, who charges mostly on metrics like memory and storage, Swiftype charges by documents and API calls. This means if you have a few items and not a lot of traffic on a site that will likely not be around long, you’re set. You can see that they have ​three primary pricing tiers​ — Standard ($49), Pro ($199), and Premium ($1999). It can be very expensive if you need more than one search engine, e.g. one for customer records, and one for inventory, or one for staging and one for production.

    Swiftype’s ease of use comes with a cost though, and this is where it helps to embrace pure open source technologies like the ones we sell. Bonsai users can use one-click Kibana for free. Swiftype users only get monthly Analytics on their $199/mo plan. It’s also not ideal for many use cases. You likely would not use Swiftype for log retention, or anything other than basic vanilla consumer app search. It’s not customizable or ideal for scenarios with a lot of writes to an index, e.g. user generated content. It doesn’t support many languages like Elasticsearch does.

    Swiftype handcuffs users to their proprietary app and pricing model. You can’t duplicate and stage multiple cluster configurations for testing, which is easy to do on Bonsai. Well, unless you buy an entirely separate plan. If you get excited about some cool feature in Elasticsearch, guess what? Not only can you not customize it — you don’t even get it. Swiftype is proprietary. You get a few of the key features of Elasticsearch that are helpful for a specific use case. That’s it.


    If your use case is:

    1. A basic web or mobile app with one search engine, and records you load yourself, and
    2. There’s likely no way you will ever need to customize or test your search beyond the basic synonyms/ranking/facets stuff, and
    3. You are okay spending money on features that are available for free in Elasticsearch,
    4. You do not care about many other features Elasticsearch offers,
    5. You do not want to bother with any elements of hosting your search engine,

    Swiftype is for you. Otherwise, it’s best to choose an Elasticsearch option.

    Key Phrases to Keep Customers Off of Elastic Swiftype

    “How long do you plan to keep this app running? How important is this search engine for your app?” “Do you foresee your team planning to customize or test your search configuration?” “Does your app require a lot of writes to your search engine that might require some configuration?”



    1. The easiest search engine to use on the market.
    2. Custom catered for apps that only need one search engine.
    3. Completely hosted. Customers don’t even need to understand sharding.


    1. Not nearly as customizable or extensible as Elasticsearch.
    2. Proprietary and not as robust as Elasticsearch.
    3. Expensive.


    The power of Elasticsearch for app developers, without the complexity.


    A limited version of Elasticsearch that many customers will likely outgrow.

    Pricing Comparison

    Not really an apples to apples comparison.

    Their Target Market

    App developers who have no time to learn anything about Elasticsearch.

    Market Presence

    In the Heroku marketplace. Just got a little more prominence on

    Quick Tips

    Get a sense of “where the customer sits in the stack.” If they are front-end developers who are scared of databases in general, they’ll likely gravitate towards something like Swiftype.

    How to Win

    1. Send them the ​Ideal Elasticsearch Index​ blog post, and let them know we can help them.
    2. Remind customers of what they miss out on by choosing Swiftype.

    When to Walk away

    When a customer has zero interest in learning about Elasticsearch, and has the money and use case that makes that possible.