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The "Unlimited" Bandwidth and Disk Space Myth

There are a number of web hosting companies claiming to offer "unlimited" disk space and "unlimited" bandwidth with their web hosting packages, but the question is "Are these features really unlimited?" First, let's define the terms bandwidth and disk space so we can clearly understand what they are.

What is Bandwidth?
Bandwidth is the amount of data that is transferred to and from your website. It is measured by either the amount of data in gigabytes or by the connection speed to the internet in Megabits per second "Mbps".

What is Disk Space?
Disk space is the amount of hard drive space allocated to your web hosting account for your website files and email to live. This is usually measured in megabytes, gigabytes or terabytes. Increased traffic to your website means higher bandwidth usage and as you add website files, your disk space usage will increase.

Often, it is difficult to find a reliable web hosting company for your website. Further, when you are unable to evaluate the actual features being offered it makes this task even more challenging. The truth is that unlimited bandwidth and disk space do not exist. There are actual physical hardware and network limitations making it impossible for any company to offer "unlimited" features.

A lot of companies offer a higher amount of disk space and bandwidth based on the fact that most small to medium sized businesses will never use these features. If you are one of the few that will be using a lot of disk space and bandwidth, you will inevitably run into limitations on how much data you can upload or how fast your website runs. Some companies will actually throttle your website to slow it down if it gets too busy or is using a lot of the server's resources. This can actually deter visitors from coming back to your website. In today's fast pace online environment it takes only seconds to lose a customer.

Bandwidth Costs Money
Over the years we have seen a growing trend of web hosting companies offering unlimited bandwidth, which unfortunately, is too good to be true. The total amount of bandwidth a company can offer is limited by the size of the "pipe" attached to the web hosting company's datacentre, which determines how much bandwidth their client's can actually use. If every customer of that hosting company used unlimited amounts of sustained bandwidth, the "pipe" would have to be infinitely large, which is simply not the case. Imagine a garden hose as the internet pipe to the hosting company's datacentre. Only so much water is allowed through the hose, which is determined by the physical size of the hose. The only way to get more water to flow through is to buy a bigger hose, which costs more money.

The same is true in the hosting world. Web hosting companies have to regulate the amount of bandwidth you are able to use at any given time because the pipe is only so big. In most cases information about how these limitations are implemented are buried deep inside the terms and conditions document, making it very possible to find. If you are not able to find the information in the terms and conditions, give them a call and find out exactly what you are able to use. Another option would be to go choose a web hosting company that provides a full list of the exact features they offer, eliminating the guesswork.

Every web hosting company in the world has to pay for their connection to the internet, which varies depending on the location of their servers. Cheaper bandwidth is one of the main reasons a lot of web hosting providers have outsourced their servers overseas, giving up control over their servers to save money on bandwidth related costs. This outsourcing should also be considered when choosing a host as the hosting company will likely not have control over the physical server hardware. Keep in mind there may also be other connectivity or even legal issues with datacentres located overseas. This online tool can help you find where in the world your website is hosted.

Unlimited Disk Space
Unfortunately, like "unlimited" bandwidth, there is no such thing as unlimited disk space. This is like saying your home computer has unlimited amounts of disk space, which we know is impossible. Every computer or server has physical limits, including the amount of RAM, CPU and hard drives that have been or can be installed. Since you are not able to install an unlimited number of hard drives in a server, limits must be set to regulate the total amount of disk space that can be allocated to each individual hosting account on that specific server. Many hosting companies are virtualizing their datacentres, which means they are removing the individual physical servers and replacing them with a larger virtualized pool of servers. Even in this virtualized environment there are still disk space limits that need to be set for each individual hosting account.

Again, information about these limitations can usually be found in the terms and conditions documentation. Be sure to read them carefully so you know exactly what you are agreeing to.

It is very important to investigate what the limitations of your web hosting plan are. Most companies, even though they offer "unlimited" bandwidth and disk space, will go as far as suspend or cancel your account if it is found to be abusive of the system, regardless of the fact you ordered a web hosting plan with "unlimited" features. This can not only cause downtime of your website but can also adversely affect your business. Choosing a hosting company that clearly discloses all the features you are actually getting may be a better choice for your business.