“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” – Humpty Dumpty
Whenever we hear “unlimited” in web hosting industry, we cringe. And whenever people ask us “but does it come with unlimited (insert whatever)?”, we wince in pain.
Fact of the matter is, “unlimited” here is interpreted in very different ways. What you might think as unlimited may not be what they really mean. Remember Humpty Dumpty from Alice in the Wonderland?
Even when it is really “unlimited xxxxx”, there are other things you should be aware of but won’t really do until someone in the know blows the whistle. And that’s exactly what we intend to do.
Here at BestHosting, we have evaluated hundreds of hosting companies. We aren’t merely visiting their websites and taking down details of their hosting plans. No, we are doing a lot more than that. Part of what we do is getting the fine prints of what their “unlimited” entails, and to know what other limitations are imposed.
Myth 1: Unlimited Storage
Unlimited storage is like the staple part of advertising from most hosting companies. Funny thing is, it is most common with shared hosting plans but never with VPS or dedicated servers. Usually, there are at least a couple hundreds of shared hosting accounts on one server and they are offering unlimited storage?
What the heck?
You see, VPS servers usually get a lot more system resources than shared hosting accounts. And they are “dedicated” resources, meaning a VPS server is guaranteed to have access to those given share of resources on a single physical server. But they never get unlimited storage. Then dedicated servers, where you can order hard drives as big as you want, don’t come with unlimited storage either. So why the heck shared hosting plans come with it?
Because they never do.
Okay, they sort of do, but there are a lot of limitations.
For one, some hosts will impose file type restrictions, or individual file sizes. Yes, they are ridiculous. But they do impose such restrictions. For some, they will have in their Terms of Services that they allow the websites to grow within their rules, although they will never state specifically in any quantifiable or explicit ways. Basically, their rules will depend on whatever they have in mind.
Hosting companies that give you more realistic storage space don’t do this. The storage you bought is yours, so you can use it as you wish, even for backing up or storing non-website related files.
Myth 2: Unlimited Bandwidth
This is another myth that really, really makes us irritated. Every resources a hosting service provides to you have to come from somewhere. Disk spaces come from hard drives, and bandwidth comes from their Internet connectivity. None of that comes free, or unlimited. So why would they be giving you unlimited?
Again here, what they call as “fair usage policy” will apply to your websites (with most web hosts). Although they say you have unlimited bandwidth, they will also say in the fine prints of their TOS that it is only for natural usage of your website and contents, but uploading or downloading files from your website may not be included. For instance, if you want to run a forum that allows people to upload file attachments, that maybe against the TOS and you may not get unlimited bandwidth.
If your website is truly popular and getting decent amount of traffic, then the bandwidth will not be an issue. Usually, at least. However, there are other measures they have put to impose more limitations so that a website with high traffic will not really use up a lot of their bandwidth allowance. Which brains us to next point…
The Fine Print
So what are the fine prints here? There are stuffs that the web hosting companies will not tell you, or even pen down explicitly in their TOS. These are the limitations they will impose on your accounts so that you will not really use up a lot of storage and bandwidth, and also the limitations that we feel you have to know.
First of all, there is CPU limit. When your website gets traffic, the server has to process all those requests and that takes up some CPU processing power. Usually on shared hosting, all accounts should have equal access to CPU and when one site has more demand, it will take up more CPU resources. But many web hosting companies that provide unlimited stuffs and oversell their resources, they will actually limit CPU usage for each accounts, causing your site to generate errors and slowing down so much.
Second thing they will limit is memory usage. Just like CPU usage, RAM is another system resource that you will never know how much you get access to. When your website’s dynamic scripts are running, those executions and data files are stored in the RAM temporarily. So if you don’t have enough access to RAM, or the RAM runs out while processing, your visitors will get error messages. Your website will lock up, or it will just become so slow to the point of unusable. And unlike hard drives, where the web host can keep adding or at least use external storage devices, RAM is fixed for each server. Sure they can upgrade, but there is a maximum amount a server can physically handle. Then when hundreds of shared hosting accounts are on same server and running a lot of processes, you will almost always run into RAM issue.
Third thing that annoys us a lot is database connections. No web hosts will ever tell you how many connections are allowed to the database. Every database servers have limited connections they can handle. Whenever your dynamic web application makes requests for data from database, there is always a connection. So when too many requests for data are made simultaneously (either from same website or multiple), database server runs out of resources and will be unable to process them. We are sure you have seen “Can’t connect to MySQL server” or similar errors. That’s what happens when database server can’t handle anymore connections.
So All Unlimited Are Bad?
Not really. There are stuffs like unlimited email accounts, which are really unlimited. But it actually means you can create as many email addresses as you want on your domain. For each accounts, you still have to give them specific amount of storage space, which ultimately is tied to your web hosting account storage space. Then there are email forwarding aliases, which are really unlimited since they don’t have to use up any space.
We are not going to tell you to avoid those companies like a plague. There are reputable budget shared hosting companies like HostGator and BlueHost with unlimited storage and bandwidth offer and by all means, they are pretty good companies even though those “unlimited” stuffs aren’t really unlimited in universal sense.
What you have to do is plan your website needs in advance. For small personal blogs or static websites, or small business websites without a lot of traffic, then it is likely that there won’t be a lot of demand of resources too. For such sites, you can use web hosts with “unlimited resources” plans. But if you are planning to build a larger site and expecting to have decent traffic in the future, then you will have to think harder on which hosting companies you should go with, and what hosting services you should choose.
For that purposes, you can actually use our hosting services comparison tool here to evaluate different hosting plans from a lot of companies in the industry. We won’t have every hosting companies out there in the field. Instead, we have only put in companies we have reviewed and evaluated, and passed our criteria. Look them up, and let us know if you run into any issues.