Inexpensive Hosting: The truth about Unlimited Bandwidth Hosting

September 28, 2008 at 11:44 pm 1 comment

Imagine a fantastic scenario: you’ve built an awesome website about purple widgets, and your site gets mentioned in an AP news article picked up all over the world, driving a rush of traffic to your website. It’s a great situation to be in – your site is getting attention and popularity, and your revenues are through the roof!

Then, all of the sudden just a couple days after the article has been published, your website unexpectedly goes off-line and is inaccessible for three straight days. You’re rapidly losing credibility and income, simply because you went over your bandwidth limit, causing your inexpensive hosting company to take your site off the web. Your stress levels shoot up as you angrily yell at the customer service man over the phone, trying to get your site back online, or maybe frantically trying to switch hosting companies over to a more reliable, reputable company like Web Hosting Buzz.

This scenario, while not a universal experience, does happen. Hence the attractiveness of a recent marketing strategy – offering unlimited data storage and bandwidth. The idea of unlimited appeals to many consumers, since it allow them to just purchase the unlimited bandwidth hosting and forget about it.

The problem is that the scenario above is just as likely to happen whether you have an unlimited bandwidth host or not.

Unfortunately, it is physically impossible to actually offer unlimited bandwidth hosting. Servers have two main physical attributes – the amount of data they can store, and the amount of bandwidth they can serve. The data storage is a function of how big the hard drive of the server is, and how many other people are hosted on that server. Even on a plan with unlimited data storage, there will be an actual limit to the amount of disk space you can use for your website. Usually, however, this real life data storage limit is quite large, and rarely would a customer ever run into the limits of data storage.

Bandwidth, on the other hand is much more complex. Bandwidth is determined by a host of factors, including but not limited to the type of connection the server has to the internet, and the hardware of the server itself. The bandwidth figure is important, since unlike data storage, people often do run over their bandwidth limits, or if they don’t actually run over their bandwidth limits, the amount of bandwidth they use causes them to use too much of the CPU of the server and gets their site booted that way.

The basic idea of bandwidth is that it is a measure of how much data the server has transferred over the internet, or from an even simpler viewpoint, a measure of how many people visit your site.

Each time someone visits your site and loads your webpage, they are downloading the HTML files, photos, graphics, and multimedia to their own computer in order to view them. If you have website that has a single page with a size of 100kb, and the hosting plan you have allows you to transfer 15gb per month, then your page would have to be viewed more than 150,000 times in the month in order for you to run over the limit. 150,000 views is certainly a lot of views to have in a month, but it is not out of the question, and a larger website with more photos, graphics, and especially multimedia to download would dramatically shrink the number of times your site can be seen!

Since the bandwidth is limited by the physical attributes of the server and its connection to the internet, it is clearly impossible to offer unlimited bandwidth. Even plans that offer high bandwidth hosting in the thousands of gigabytes are often physically impossible. The server has a limit to how fast it can transfer data, and even if it were transferring data at the maximum speed for every second of the entire month, it still would have a limit that would be reached eventually. Furthermore, no sever has such perfectly even visitors that it is running continuously at full capacity for every minute of the month.

So what’s the big deal about unlimited bandwidth then? If its impossible to truly achieve, then how can some hosting companies offer it?

To answer these questions we have to move from technical talk to talk of marketing. People like to compare numbers, and therefore there has been a kind of an arms race between inexpensive hosting providers to offer the most bandwidth, including now plans that claim to be unlimited. If, however, you read through the fine print, you will see that they do place express limits on your bandwidth, usually something like 10% percent of the CPU used or some other obscure figure like that.

So, basically, they lie.

It is not easy to convert a percentage of CPU usage to gigabytes of data transfer over the course of a month, but suffice it to say that if you are limited to 10% of the CPU usage, your data transfer will not be unlimited, and in many cases it will actually be less than what companies that strictly define transfer limits are offering.

What happens then, if your website becomes immensely popular and you go over the bandwidth limit on your unlimited bandwidth hosting or high bandwidth hosting? Usually they will take your site off the internet without warning, leaving you scrambling to get your site back up so you don’t lose too much traffic. Then, the inexpensive hosting company will often charge you a fee for going over your limit. Its kind of like going over your minutes on a cell phone.

In theory, going over your bandwidth limit is a good problem to have, since it means that your site has become very popular. In reality, however, it can be a big headache that can cost you a lot of money to get fixed and get your site back on the net. It is best to prepare by knowing what your bandwidth limit really is, even if you are on an unlimited plan, and working with your hosting company to allocate you more bandwidth before you actually run out if your site becomes successful.


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Web hosting saga part 1: Overview Inexpensive Hosting: How Much Hosting Disk Space Do You Actually Need?

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