Unlimited hosting is a good thing, right? You don’t have to worry about how much space your site takes up, and if you get more hits than Google, your “unlimited” account can handle it. It sounds like the best type of hosting account to have.
Why have restrictions?
Here are a few reasons why unlimited hosting might not be all it’s portrayed to be.
First, a quick history lesson
Back in the 90′s, when web hosting was in its infancy, hosts had set limits in terms of disk space and monthly bandwidth. As more hosts entered the market, offering more space and more bandwidth was an easy way to stand out. Hosts started offering unlimited accounts, but this was quickly looked down upon as the actual limits were quite low (as technology had not progressed quick enough).
The idea of unlimited seemed to be a deceptive marketing scheme, so hosts started jacking up the limits. It was an arms race, as each host tried to “one up” the other with higher and higher limits. Megabytes became Gigabytes, Gigabytes became Terabytes, and Terabytes became Petabytes! The limits became a running joke, as no one could use or offer these limits.
So the marketing came full circle and unlimited was the new limit…
My Car Analogy
Unlimited hosting in my mind is like buying a sports car, and the sales person telling you the car can go as fast as you want. There is no limit to its top speed. Although this may be true if you drive off a cliff into a bottomless pit where gravity can keep accelerating your car, in reality (or in this case “in analogy”), the engine has a limiter that kicks in at 50 mph, restricts airflow at 70 mph, and shuts the engine off at 85 mph. All of this is conveniently hidden in the 50 page contract you signed…
Why Unlimited Hosting is not a good idea for the customer
1. There is no such thing as an unlimited hard drive
Although one day this type of hard drive may be created, there are physical limits to the size of a hard drive. This means there are limits to how much data can be uploaded, stored, or served. You’ll hear the argument that some hosts have a SAN (Storage Area Network) where they can just keep adding drives as needed, but this does not change the fact that unlimited space does not yet exist.
2. Unlimited neighbors can spell disaster for your site
This is one thing many hosting customers do not think about. They sign up with an unlimited host thinking it gives them freedom from worrying about having too much data, or becoming popular and paying large fees in overages. They fail to think about what unlimited hosting often attracts:
Website owners whose sites attract hackers, are targets for denial of service attacks, and use too may resources.
These type of sites often flock to the unlimited host. Once setup, the host may not be able to identify their site as the culprit that causes the server to crash, run very slowly, or open up the server to hackers that can then hack other websites on the server (Just look at the recent rash of WordPress hacks at large unlimited hosts like Go Daddy and Network Solutions).
This means that your site, which is small and uses very little resources, may be largely affected by the other clients on the server who were attracted by an unlimited host.
3. You don’t really know what the actual limits are
Don’t be fooled to think you can be the next Facebook in your $7/month unlimited hosting account. Unlimited hosts have limits in place, but these limits are often shrouded in secrecy, or vaguely defined in their Terms of Service (TOS).
Many times you do not know about these limits until you’ve exceeded them and your site is either throttled, broken, or just shut off or canceled.
4. The number of files you can store is often severely restricted
This is often referred to as an “Inode Limit”. Many unlimited hosts limit an account to 25,000 files for example. You may not realize this limit until you exceed it, at which point you can no longer upload new files. These type of limits can quickly be exhausted for an ecommerce site with lots of images (or multiple files per image for resized pictures).
5. The TOS often restricts CPU, memory, etc… to limit your site
Although they may not list any limits for disk space or bandwidth consumed, almost all hosts will shut off a site for using too much CPU or memory, or adversely affecting the performance of the server. For unlimited hosters, these CPU/memory restrictions are often quite stringent, and can disable your site instantly when you exceed these limits.
To add to the confusion, customers are often unaware of how these CPU/memory limits are measured, or when their site might exceed them. Compounding the problem is unlimited hosts often pack their servers full, meaning there is less CPU to go around, which translates into less resources that your site can use before exceeding a limit.
When there are realistic and defined disk and bandwidth limits, coupled with proper server balancing, it’s very unlikely a website that stays within these confines will cause any CPU/memory problems (unless their code has bugs or is so poorly designed that is does not scale well).
To drive my point home a bit more… If you use standard applications such as WordPress, Joomla, ShopSite ®, phpBB, vBulletin, etc… and you stay within the limits of your account (assuming your host has realistic plans), it’s very unlikely you’ll cause problems.
6. Backups may be seldom done, done poorly, or not at all
When a host is offering unlimited space for a low price, there will be a large consumption of disk space. This makes it very difficult and often very expensive for the host to create regular reliable backups of all this data. Some hosts put the onus on the customer to retain their own backups, others only do them once a week or month, and some may not have reliable backups that can be restored correctly.
Even if you have backups of your files, if you have any dynamic content (i.e. a database), that could be lost if your host does not maintain proper backups.
7. Restores can take days
We’ve found that on average, most backup/restore applications can restore data at a rate of 50 GB per hour. If your host has a server with 4,000 GB of data to restore, you’re looking at 2-4 *DAYS* until the data is fully restored.
(I’ll be writing a blog post in the near future all about backups and how we minimize issues such as this.)
8. Hardware is often less reliable due to large storage requirements
When your host is charging a low price and giving away gobs of space, the hardware to support this is often of a lower quality, as high end drives (like 15,000 rpm Serially Attached SCSI (SAS) drives that we use) cost an arm and a leg if you need them to support Terabytes of space.
Lower quality hardware often results in less reliable systems. This can be mitigated by RAID setups with multiple drives, but it still increases the chances of data loss and downtime.
9. Server performance is often sacrificed for space
Lower quality hardware and drives means performance is impacted, which results in slower page loads for your site. Since Google now measures site speed and can give your site a boost in its ranking for fast loading pages, you do not want your site hosted on a slow, overloaded server.
This is amplified if your site is database driven, as database access is severely impacted by slower drives. Combine this with many unlimited hosts packing their servers to the gills, and your site is now gasping for air (actually CPU cycles and drive access) amid the sea of sites on the server.
10. FTP speeds are often capped
We transfer a number of ShopSite ecommerce stores from these type of hosts, and we’ve noticed that the majority of them put a limit on how fast you can download or upload files via FTP. Sometimes this cap is ridiculously low, in the neighborhood of 50-100 kb/s (which is a snail’s pace these days).
It seems these unlimited hosts really don’t want you using all that space. They make it very hard (or at least test your patience) to upload large amounts of material. Even if you have a small site, these FTP limits can make it agonizing to upload even small amounts of data. Or if you want to download your site for your own backups, it can take forever.
11. TOS is very restrictive on the type of content you can store
Unlimited hosting companies have a few tricks up their sleeves to limit how much users can actually store in their account. Many of these tricks come in the form of carefully worded restrictions in the terms of service agreement that every client agrees to when signing up. Often you’ll find things such as:
- A large percentage of your files must be viewable on the web.
- Files cannot exceed ### MB in size
- Any video/audio must be created by the site owner
- All files must be linked from webpages in your site
12. A drive filling up entirely is more likely – can spell disaster
When there are no limits, a few users will push this to the limit. Sometimes the protection mechanisms hosts have may not be fast enough to stop a drive from filling up. Once full, this will wreck havoc on websites, as files cannot be uploaded, databases can become corrupt, temp files cannot be created, the operating system can become unstable, etc…
13. Unlimited accounts attract unsavory characters
Webmasters with popular “underground” forums, people hosting illegal software / music / videos, and sites that use too many resources are often attracted to these type of hosts. Having your site and email in close vicinity can not only mean potential downtime and instability, but could subject your site and email to black lists as other ISPs block the IP ranges of some of these hosts that contain “bad” websites.
14. Borders on false advertising (is deceptive advertising at best)
As you’ve probably surmised by now, it is near impossible for these hosts to actually offer what they advertise. In fact, they often are more restrictive than a host with reasonable limits. This type of deceptive advertising, while legal (due to carefully worded Terms of Service), does harm to the hosting industry, as clients are often confused about what they can and cannot do with their sites.
And if it’s not painfully obvious, I detest these types of practices. If you can’t be honest and upfront with your potential clients, how can you ever develop trust and a solid business relationship?
15. Unlimited hosting often means the host is focusing on specs and not service and support
Any host can offer bits and bytes. Although there are varying levels of technology, it comes down to service and support that makes a host exceptional. I believe it’s quite rare to find an unlimited type host that also provides stellar service and support. The unlimited companies would rather focus on squeezing everything they can out of their servers to try and turn a profit. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of the clients that find themselves on these servers.
What do you think? Have your previous experiences been good or bad with unlimited type hosts?
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