By: David Cross

A few years ago, web hosting plans were all limited. Users knew exactly how much disk space they were getting, how much bandwidth, RAM, CPU, and other quantifiable aspects of a web hosting plan. Today, many web hosting companies offer what is called unlimited hosting plans. Those who are knowledgeable with web hosting cringe at the very thought of the idea of unlimited plans knowing very well what unlimited truly means in the context of web hosting.

Non-connoisseurs, however, may be led to believe that unlimited hosting means exactly that: hosting that offers unlimited resources. Unfortunately, the term unlimited has a whole different meaning to most businesses in the web hosting industry.

Hosting companies offer unlimited plans, which should immediately raise some red flags since it is impossible for a server to have infinite resources. So, if unlimited hosting doesn’t mean unlimited resources, then what does it really mean?

The Truth Behind Unlimited Web Hosting

The devil is in the details, goes the saying and indeed, reading the fine print of these hosting company’s Terms of Service does shed some light on the issue.

Unlimited hosting is a phrase coined by web hosting companies that seems to have a different meaning in this industry than in other industries. The word unlimited is a misnomer, a more accurate term that could describe the type of plans advertised as unlimited is unmetered, and some hosting providers like Delux Solutions actually use this term instead of unlimited to describe their hosting plans. In fact, they specify in their Terms of Service that they don’t have defined limitations for these unmetered plans and that you are not billed according to the amount of bandwidth or disk space you use, further specifying that “… of course these resources are not infinite”.

By their nature, hosting plans need to be designed to meet the needs of their customers, that is, what is it that you actually need. Therefore, websites that are more resource intensive such as multimedia file storage or file sharing activities need to have a better hosting plan. If you engage in activities of this nature or activities that violate the a hosting company’s fair use policy for their unlimited plan, your account can be suspended and/or terminated.

Unlimited hosting is nothing more than a marketing strategy for hosting companies that engage in hosting overselling, which, in a nutshell, is the practice of maximizing return on investment by selling resources that result from the gap between the average usage of resources and the maximum available resources. This is easily achieved by hosting providers by shrouding hosting plans in the obscurity of the “unlimited”, but it’s also how hosting companies can keep prices low for consumers.

The simple truth of the matter is that these companies that offer unlimited plans know that the average website, about 90% of all sites out there, never reach above 500 megs of disk space, 8gb of ram in memory, or 20mb of bandwidth at any given time. Therefore, tricking people into believing that unlimited is a good deal they make tons of money by stacking a lot of sites on their servers and overselling their resources.

What Does Unlimited Storage and Bandwidth Entail?

If resources are not unlimited how do you know how much you’re getting in terms of storage and bandwidth? Unfortunately, you don’t know until you’ve hit the ceiling of what is considered normal usage by your hosting company, and even that may change from month to month. Hosting companies continuously monitor their customer’s storage and bandwidth utilization and use the results of their analyses to define what falls within the normal range.

Storage and bandwidth are the two key elements that are advertised as unlimited by hosting companies, but they put a lot of limitations on these plans that range from file type and size restrictions to CPU, RAM, inodes, MySQL databases and connections limitations, etc. in essence determining you to upgrade to higher tier plans if you fail to fall within the confines of natural or normal usage.

If your website receives a lot of traffic, CPU processing power is taken up by the server to process all those requests. If the hosting company limits CPU usage for each account, your website will slow down and generate errors. Same goes with memory usage, another aspect of the hosting plan that you don’t know where it’s capped at. A server has fixed RAM and when multiple processes are run by the hundreds of websites on the same server, you’re bound to run into RAM issues, and your visitors will be met with error messages or a tediously slow website. An equally frustrating limitation that can be imposed by the hosting provider is database connections, and when more simultaneous database connection requests exist than what the database server can handle, “Can’t connect to MySQL server” type of errors may occur.

Unlimited plans usually also include unlimited email accounts, which means you can create as many email addresses as you wish, however, these too are ultimately correlated with the storage space of your hosting account.

Unlimited Plans – Should You Avoid Them?

Does all this mean you should avoid unlimited hosting plans like the plague? No, you don’t need to avoid them, you just need to understand what they truly mean – unlimited has a different meaning in web hosting than what they might lead you on to think. You really need to know what it is your getting yourself into. They may be cheap but just remember that you get what you pay for.

Companies like Delux Solutions avoid naming their plans unlimited and prefer using the term unmetered to describe the equivalent of unlimited hosting plans boasted by other companies. Their plans are also clearly defined so you know exactly what you are getting. They also make it easy for your plan to grow as the demands for your site change.

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