Unlimited Bandwidth Hosting
Expecting a lot of traffic on your new website? Maybe you should get one of those Unlimited Bandwidth hosting plans. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay if you get too much traffic. Well, it isn’t quite as simple as that.
Do you ever stop and think about what it is you are paying for when you buy hosting? It’s natural to just lump everything together and think of your hosting cost. But that doesn’t give you a real picture.
Whether it is all line-itemed on your bill, if you are using a hosting company, you are paying for:
- The physical equipment. That is, the computer(s) that stores and serves your website.
- The land and building in which the equipment is located.
- The upkeep, maintenance, cooling, and security of the equipment and its building.
- Data transfer. That is, use of the internet by the web hosting company, on your behalf. This is called bandwidth.
Many websites can sit on a single machine, and many machines fit inside even a relatively small building. Because of this, the actual cost of a providing another few megabits of storage or bandwidth are almost negligible.
The problem for the company is that a few megabits, multiplied out by the hundreds or thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of customers in a single data center adds up to real, actual costs for the company. Nearly zero isn’t near enough.
For this reason, web hosting companies tend to charge for bandwidth. Often, there will be some typical amount of bandwidth included in a hosting package, and you only have to pay more if you go over it.
The reason for this is similar to two other limits in two different contexts:
Cellphone plans have a per-minute charge structure that is very similar to web hosting companies that charge for bandwidth over a specified limit. The primary reason for the fee structure is profit-motivated. They sell time, and they want you to pay for it. Overage minutes are usually very highly priced to entice you to buy a larger regularly-billed monthly plan that you won’t exceed.
Airline baggage weight limits seem similar, but exist for a different purpose. Airlines don’t make money by charging for baggage, they make money by selling plane tickets. However, the cost of flying a bunch of people and 80 tons of steel is fairly high. And the heavier the plane is, the more it costs to run it, because more fuel has to be burned. Airlines don’t care about the $50/bag weight fee. They want to encourage you to pack less baggage in the first place. It saves them a lot of money.
Both of these motivations — increasing profits and decreasing expenses — are at work with web hosting bandwidth limits.
The idea that charging people more money increases profits makes perfect sense. But the lowered expenses is an even bigger driver.
If people know that they will start being charged more money for exceeding their bandwidth limits, they will start finding ways to keep their bandwidth low. Just like how you start making hard decisions about what to pack and not pack when you realize your bag is over fifty pounds.
(BTW: This works even if the alternatives cost more, because of the way people seek to conform to guidelines. How many families do you know spend hundreds of dollars mailing Christmas gifts in order to avoid paying an extra baggage fee at the airport?)
There are all sorts of things people can do to reduce the bandwidth usage on their website. In fact, most of them are a good idea, even if you have an unlimited amount of bandwidth available:
- Use a Content Delivery Network (like MaxCDN) to offload bandwidth to other services.
- Minify and combine JS, CSS, and other code-based resources.
- Clean up the HTML so that less code is required.
Unlimited bandwidth hosting
But if all that sounds too complicated, you can simply get an unlimited bandwidth plan. Many web hosting companies offer plans like this.
Except you have to remember: they are still motivated to increase profits and reduce expenses. Your hosting company isn’t a charity. (Probably.)
In the “Unlimited Bandwidth” world, these two things are accomplished by:
- Calculating the cost of the plan with an above-average assumption of bandwidth use; that is, charging enough to cover more bandwidth than you will likely use.
- Finding ways to reduce your bandwidth use — often through site throttling or other means.
Who should use unlimited bandwidth hosting?
It simply isn’t true that one way or the other way of paying for bandwidth and hosting is better. There is a balance between actual cost, risk, and complexity.
Generally speaking, unlimited bandwidth plans are a good choice for small and medium-sized non-tech business running marketing and content sites, as well as independent bloggers and artists.