The truth about unlimited web hosting




Nov 1 - 2014


The truth about unlimited hosting

Almost every web hosting company in the market today offer unlimited hosting with their shared hosting plans in the form of unlimited disk space and bandwidth.

Unlimited plans are a quirky development of the web hosting industry. It began when some web hosts that offered shared hosting solutions juggled hosted sites between their servers by moving websites with higher traffic to unpopulated servers (that is, servers with websites that have little visitors).

Unlimited hosting is not really infinite bandwidth, space or RAM.

There are usually clauses in a web host's terms of service that describe this practice. They typically provide a web host with the discretion to pull the plug on a website in cases where if no matter where they relocate a high-traffic website on a shared hosting plan, it is still consuming more bandwidth than what is reasonably expected.

As you will notice, what a "reasonable" amount of traffic is for a website on a shared hosting plan is interpreted solely by the web host.

These plans are therefore unlimited in that most small websites will never see the kind of traffic that larger websites like will have has. Hence, most will likely never experience any significant downtime. The point to note is that shared hosting plans were never meant to cater to websites with moderate monthly traffic.

One will invariably also observe that virtual private server (VPS) and dedicated server hosting plans all come with hard stop bandwidth and disk storage restrictions. Why then do more powerful hosting solutions provide limited server resources while the cheapest plans are able to offer apparently unlimited bandwidth and storage?

Let's take another look at the terms and conditions of a few randomly-selected web hosts.

For example, Hostgator'sterms of serviceinclude this clause :

8. Bandwidth usage

You are allocated a monthly bandwidth allowance. This allowance varies depending on the hosting package you purchase. Should your account pass the allocated amount we reserve the right to suspend the account until the start of the next allocation, suspend the account until more bandwidth is purchased at an additional fee, suspend the account until you upgrade to a higher level of package, terminate the account and/or charge you an additional fee for the overages. Unused transfer in one month cannot be carried over to the next month.

A more comprehensive bandwidth and disk space usage disclaimer is offered byJustHost. On its main page, JustHost advertises that its starter plan includes "Unlimited GBs of Space*" and "Unlimited GBs of Transfer*".

The asterisk directs our attention to a pop-up which explains Just Host's bandwidth and disk usage policy:

What do you mean by "unlimited disk space and transfer"?

There are no set limits of the disk space or data transfer (bandwidth) that we provide in plans marked "unlimited". We want you to have the resources you need to build a great online presence.

Still we do need to be sure that we're providing all our customers with optimum service. As such, we do require all customers to be fully compliant with our Terms of Service and utilize disk space and bandwidth related to the normal operation of a personal or small business website.

But what is normal usage in JustHost's definition?

Normal usage means that you operate a personal or small business website that utilize resources in a manner similar to most of our other customers.

In itsUser Agreement, JustHost explains :

01. What "unlimited" means.

Just host does not set an arbitrary limit or cap on the amount of resources a single Subscriber can use. In good faith and subject to these Terms, Just host makes every commercially reasonable effort to provide its Subscribers with all the storage and bandwidth resources needed to power their web sites successfully, as long as the Subscriber's use of the service complies with these Terms.

By not setting limits on key resources, we are able to provide simple, consistent pricing to our Subscribers as they grow their websites. As a result, a typical website may experience periods of great popularity and resulting increased storage without experiencing any associated increase in hosting charges.

We will therefore not really know much bandwidth is allocated to each account which is at the discretion of the web host. But a reading of the above clause seems to suggest that it's far from being unlimited.

Finally we end our discussion on this topic with some comments from the people working with web hosts.

In an interview, Darin Hardy, the Marketing Manager atInMotion Hostingoffers some thoughts on the history of this practice :

Your Business Class Hosting plans offer unlimited disk space and bandwidth. Should your customers be concerned by overselling? Can this affect the performance of their websites?

Darin : When the industry started turning to unlimited disk space and bandwidth I think most of our competitors were probably biting their nails and pacing the floor. We felt the exact opposite! The turn away from using arbitrary limits on gigabytes and megabytes allows us to really shine the light on what sets InMotion Hosting apart, our focus on providing the best support and highest quality of service in the industry.

Before, potential clients had to take into account 1500GB from this host or 600GB from that host; now that field has been leveled and the shoppers need to ask the most important question: "Am I choosing the best host?" and when they go with us they can answer unequivocally, "Yes."

To answer your second question, with other hosts I would say "It's certainly possible". What I can tell you is that here at InMotion Hosting if we have a client that begins to affect the performance of the server and other clients' websites we'll migrate that client to an unpopulated server and figure out what's going on before it becomes an issue that affects our other clients.

In an interview withHostPapa, Maricel, an affiliate manager explains :

Question : Many unlimited hosting companies suspend hosting accounts due to high load. What is HostPapa's take on this practice?

Maricel : It all depends on your definition of "high load". This question goes back again to the whole concept of a shared community. We certainly have to do what is right for the shared customer community. This means we have to limit the exposure of certain individual customers who consume vast amounts of system resources to the detriment of the community on that same server.

This normally does not apply to bandwidth and disk space, but rather the system resources and processing load that an individual account consumes on the shared server. Some customers simply outgrow shared hosting with their needs and should move to a VPS or dedicated server. It really is something we have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Spammers, of course, are simply not tolerated. Beyond that, we won't simply suspend accounts for using disk space and bandwidth if the system resources are being utilized for their legitimate website hosting needs. For example, we are not a data storage facility for customers' hard drives or for copyrighted MP3s.

That is the only challenge we have with the large hosting packages. We will inform our customers of this fact, and ask them to remove the material before we ever suspend an account. This information is clearly spelled out in our Terms and Conditions. - 2011

You can know probably appreciate why it is essential to plan ahead if you intend to build a prospective high-traffic website to avoid unexpected and potentially frequent downtime. Most customer complaints usually arise from unexpected website disconnections because of excessive consumption of shared server resources. While a reliable web host can manage the migration of relatively high-traffic sites to unpopulated servers, this is but a temporary solution to alleviate the symptoms.

If your website is already seeing some serious growth in traffic, it may be time to upgrade to at least a VPS solution as a $4.00 a month shared hosting plan will likely not be able to cope with the increase in traffic.

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