Many cheap web hosting providers mention "unlimited bandwidth" and "unlimited disk space" in their hosting plans. It is important to understand, that these are phrases from sweet marketing talk, which is often little bit different from true reality. If you are able to understand which resources in web hosting are most expensive and the limitations of "unlimited", then you know true risks of hosting your websites with such web hosting companies.
Web hosting services work on simple principles. Web hosting company buys server hardware, installs some operational software to servers, leases broadband connection to connect servers into the internet and starts selling web hosting services. If we think about each component, which is needed for providing web hosting services, nothing is free nor unlimited. Server has certain amount of hard disk space, CPU (Central Processing Unit) has certainly some limitations, and web hosting company pays great amount of money for delivering terabytes of data through broadband connection.
So, if all resources are limited and web hosting company needs to pay for each component, how can website hosting packages offer unlimited bandwidth and disk space?
Fight for customers
Simple answer is, that promises and reality are not always same in the marketing arena. Historically, web hosting companies listed particular amount of disk space, for example 10Gb, in their hosting plans. It become soon clear, that customers perception was, that more is better and web hosting companies started to raise limitations to compete with each other. During tough competition, promises went out of hand soon and numbers become too unrealistic even for non-technical people.
Real truth is, that small websites consisting only 6-7 pages consumes only very little server resources and they never come even close to any real limitations. What is the meaning of expressing limitations in certain number then at all? Such small website, which has perhaps couple of thousand visitors per month, uses only about 100Mb disk space and 1Gb of bandwidth each month, which is only about 1% of realistic limitations. For such small websites, there is really no real difference measuring or not measuring resource usage at all.
What dynamic websites really consume?
Bandwidth and disk space are two types of resource, which are mentioned in most web hosting plans. They are simple to understand for average computer user. Also historically they were important, because they were really limited and expensive in the past. With natural development of technology, they are not so expensive any more. For example, cost of hard disk space has fallen quite a lot during latest years, same happened with real cost of bandwidth.
There are other issues, you need certainly know. About a decade ago, most websites were static, consisting only .html files and there was not much need for processing in server side. Website building technology is much different now and most websites have some sort of content management system, which uses dynamic server side scripting and databases for storing webiste content like page structure and textual elements.
Dynamic websites consume more processor resources and there is also limitations how many processes may run parallel at same time. Both these are very technical concepts, which are hard to explain in marketing talk to average website owner.
So, how much is "unlimited" exactly
If you just start with new website and it uses little resources, all these limitations doesn't matter. Situation may change, when your website grows and there are more content as well as tons of visitors each day. Then it would be good to know, what happens, when you consume too much resources. Most of web hosting companies have at least something written in their "Terms of Services" about fair use of resources. Unfortunately they never express the real numbers, where the fair use of these resources ends and when they start asking for additional money from you.
What you can do, is to read web hosting reviews written by professional webmasters and follow their suggestions. Some web hosting companies allow you to use more resources within their "unlimited" plans than others. Most of the time, those which are notorious for setting lower limits are mentioned also in public forums and blog discussions.
Certainly you may also monitor your website and measure how much resources it uses to be aware of it's growth rate. There are number of things you may be able to do to optimize our websites needs for resources. It is still good to realize, that growing website may need dedicated server at some day.
However, with technology becoming cheaper with every day, resources are not really so limited as just few years ago any more. It means also, that your web hosting company let's you use more disk space, bandwidth and CPU power without sending you any warnings. Term "unlimited" has been often used as marketing term in the past, but each day brings us closer to the true meaning. Good thing is, that with cheaper technology we don't need to worry using too much basic web hosting resources any more.
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