You have seen the offers - unlimited hosting plans for dollar a month, or even cheaper. Are they real? How can this possibly work?

If you are about to build your first website or you want to find a better deal for your existing one, you will be tempted by the unlimited plans you see all over the web. The offers do sound very appealing – for only a few dollars you will not have to worry about the disk space your files take, the traffic the site generates or the size of the database that will be accumulated over time. Why would you pay $200 for a limited plan when you can pay $5 for an unlimited one? Let‘s have a look if this is really the case, though.

What features are usually unlimited?

An actual offer you can find online.

You will find different offers on the market. Some offer unlimited traffic with limited disk space, others come with a few more unlimited features. Of course, you will also come across plans that come with more or less everything unlimited. This includes, but is not limited to: disk space, monthly traffic, inodes, hosted websites, account load, databases, emails, etc. Almost anything that is measured in numbers can be listed as unlimited. If you think about it, it seems that such a plan will cost you just a fraction of the price that you will have to pay for a virtual server with limited resources.

Let’s have a look at a few of the main features

  • Disk space. This is the space on a server where your website files and emails are stored. Disk drives have limited storage, no matter if they are the classic HDDs or the faster SSDs. Only so many disk drives can be attached to a server, and do not forget that the unlimited plans are usually shared hosting plans i.e. you share all available resources with a number of other people. Unless you use some sort of cloud storage where content is distributed between different machines, there is no way to have truly unlimited disk space. Talking about cloud storage, consider that even companies that offer dedicated file storage services offer limited disk space with all their plans. This is why, if you see an offer for unlimited disk space, you can be certain that there is a catch.

    It is common for companies to offer unlimited disk space, but only if you use it to store certain type of content. For example, you can store only website files, but the storage of any non-website files (backup archives, audio and video files, documents, etc.) is very limited. Site files are usually very small, so in reality you will be allowed to use a very limited amount of space. If you fall for such an unlimited plan, you will soon realize that it is actually very limited, but it may be too late.
These are some limitations that different hosting providers have.

ICDSoft offers hosting plans with limited disk space for a reason – we want to be honest with all our customers. As long as all the content in your account is legal, it will be up to you what you will store. We do not have any hidden restrictions regarding the disk space and we guarantee that you will really get as much space as you pay for, no matter if you use a basic shared hosting plan or a high-end managed VPS plan with a huge disk space quota.

  • Monthly traffic. Most hosting packages these days don’t have a traffic limit. In other words, no matter how much traffic your site will generate, it will always stay online. This is important for large websites that have a lot of visitors or for sites that offer access to large downloadable files – audio and video content, documents, etc.

In reality, web hosting providers pay for the traffic they generate – to datacenters or to Internet service providers, for example.
With that in mind, they can afford to offer truly unlimited monthly traffic in a few ways:

  • Limit the bandwidth (speed) for an account to make sure it isn’t capable of generating too much traffic. This can directly affect the loading speed of the website, especially if a lot of people are trying to browse it simultaneously.
  • Provide high traffic quota to some customers at the expense of others who pay for a package, but do not use its resources.
  • Add various restrictions in their Terms of Service, such as limiting the amount of traffic that non-website files can generate. This restricts the type of content you can store and offer to your visitors.

As you can see, all of the options above mean that you cannot have truly unlimited traffic, especially for a few dollars per month. This is why, if this is one of the features you believe are important for your website, you should look for a company that offers a high traffic quota and really provides it.

This is an example of a common speed limitation
  • Inodes. On a Linux file system, an inode is a block that contains information about a file or a folder – size, file type, permissions, access and modification time, etc. Basically, any file, folder or email in your account counts as one inode. This is a limit that you will rarely see on the home page of a hosting provider’s website. Inodes are usually mentioned in the Terms of Service and they are usually limited. The reason is that the more inodes there are on a server, the harder it gets to manage a hosting account – directory listing or backups will start taking a lot of time. If a large number of users have too many inodes, the proper operation of the entire server can be affected.

    Nonetheless, you will come across hosting packages that have “unlimited inodes” listed as a feature. The tricky part here is that you will always find a note that the limit is not hard i.e. there IS a limit, but it is a soft limit that is often set at the sole discretion of the provider. Similar to other “unlimited” features, one user can use more inodes at the expense of other users that do not use their quota. If they do, however, your own account may be affected and you may not be able to store as many files as you wish, even if you have paid for that.
You will almost always find an inodes limit
  • Databases. There are two different things companies may refer to when they offer unlimited databases. The first one is the number of databases you can create, and although it will be very difficult to manage a very large number, these can really be unmetered. The second thing companies refer to is storage - the size of individual databases or the total size of all databases in the account.

    It is not uncommon to list even "unlimited database size” as a feature on the provider’s home page, but reality can be different. Database servers run separately from web/storage servers and there is a reason for that. Running queries in a very large database can cause high load, so if a few queries are run simultaneously, the performance of the entire server can degrade. This is why, database size (per database or in total) is usually limited, but, not surprisingly, this can usually be seen only in the Terms of Service.

Why do companies do that?

The answer is simple – for profit. Even if people need a hosting plan for a small website that barely uses any resources, they usually think “the more, the better”. This is why, they are attracted when they see the word “Unlimited”, so most hosting providers simply exploit this fact. Companies are aware that they cannot offer truly unlimited features – they can offer only very high quotas and usually at the expense of other users who do not use all their resources.

“Unlimited” is nothing more than a term they use in an attempt to beat their competitors and to find new customers. In simple terms, it is just a marketing trick.

Of course, hosting providers cannot openly mislead their customers, so if you read their Terms, you will always find that they reserve their right to restrict any account that uses more system resources than what they find to be reasonable. What “reasonable” means in this case is up to them. In short, there are usually three reasons for companies to offer “unlimited” hosting:

  • For marketing purposes – to attract more traffic to their website, as people fall for unlimited features.
  • To beat the competition – or at least the hosting providers that offer limited plans with real resource quotas.
  • To steal customers from their competitors – usually people who are not familiar with the way resource allocation works and who will fall for an “unlimited” plan even if they don’t need even a fraction of their current limited plan.

While an “unlimited” plan may be suitable for a small or medium-sized website, there will always be some sort of limitation. If you ever need the full system resources you have been paying for, you will not be able to use them. You should be aware of that when you choose a hosting plan. Before you order any plan, make sure that you:

  • Double-check for any footnotes regarding the unlimited features on the page.
  • Go through the provider’s Terms of service to find any mention of unlimited features.
  • Look for a dedicated page on the website or a section in the Terms that addresses acceptable usage or any definition of “unlimited” the provider uses.

Where ICDSoft stands

If you look at our hosting plans, you will notice that we do not offer any unlimited ones. Instead, we offer very generous disk space and monthly traffic quotas. We also have a clear limit for the total size of the databases in a single account and the total number of files the account can accommodate. We believe that honesty stands before anything else, so we are honest with all our existing and future customers. We guarantee that you will be able to use the system resources you have paid for without any hidden clauses.

In other words, if you want to store a personal backup in your hosting account, or you want to offer a downloadable e-book that generates a lot of traffic, we will not restrict your account in any way. You will be able to use the full potential of your account – the disk space and monthly traffic values you see in your account and on our website are the ones you can really utilize.

Wrap up

Unlimited sounds appealing. Unlimited and cheap sounds even better. In reality, however, such a thing does not exist. It is a marketing trick used by many hosting providers in an attempt to get more customers. One way or another, many hosting providers limit the system resources their customers can use, so even if some feature is listed as “unlimited”, the other limitations make it impossible to use anything close to unlimited.

If you are looking for a new hosting plan and you believe that you will need a lot of system resources, you should look for a provider that offers a high resource quota, which will cover your needs. An honest company will provide all the resources you have paid for. Quality comes at a price, so you shouldn’t fall for the “unlimited” trick.

Author

A web hosting provider since 2001. We host over 58,000 websites for customers in over 140 countries around the globe.

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