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Is Unlimited Hosting Just A Marketing Ploy?

By Charles Hopkins Published 11/28/2007 | Web Hosting
In the competitive market of shared web hosting many providers are now offering 'unlimited' packages. These packages usually include unlimited disk space, bandwidth, add-on domains, email accounts, MySQL databases and many other unlimited features.

Are these packages truly unlimited and are they worth considering for your hosting needs? Well, many hosting experts will argue that unlimited plans are nothing more than a marketing trick and no hosting package can be truly unlimited. This article will take a look at some of the pros and cons.

Probably the most contentious features of any unlimited hosting plan are bandwidth and disk space. After all, there is no such thing as an unlimited hard disk, right? Of course, that's true. But the way hosts provide unlimited disk space is by using a number of servers in a series. So when one disk becomes full, they simply add another hard disk or another server. In theory they can keep adding hard disks forever. This is the way all hosting providers operate - unlimited or not - when a disk becomes full they have to add another one. The same principle applies to bandwidth. When a hosting company's bandwidth allowance is near capacity, they simply buy more from their provider.

So, in theory unlimited bandwidth and disk space is possible, as long as a host keeps adding resources. However many critics of unlimited hosting argue that no hosting company will keep on adding resources indefinitely because it is not economically viable to do so. This would certainly be the case if all of a hosting company's customers were using hundreds of gigabytes of disk space and bandwidth. However, the reality is that the vast majority of hosting customers only use a few megabytes of resources. This is the 'gamble' that hosts take when they offer unlimited packages. They are betting that 99% of their customers will only use a very small amount of their server's resources.

The big question to consider is how a hosting company will deal with the 1% of customers who use many gigabytes of resources. This is up to their discretion and depends very much on their 'fair usage' policies. The chances are that they will suspend the accounts of customers who are putting a huge strain on their system resources. So, in these cases the critics are right: Unlimited hosting is a scam.

So, if you are looking for an unlimited hosting package because you have many terabytes of data that you want to host, then you would probably be better off using a dedicated server.

However, if you are one of the 99% of customers who will not be an undue strain on a hosting company's shared resources, then an unlimited package may still be worth considering because of all the other unlimited features you can use.

For example, you may have many domains each needing their own website. The individual websites probably won't take up excessive disk space so your unlimited account won't be suspended. Even though you are not using up your unlimited disk space, you will still be able to take advantage of all the other unlimited features like add-on domains, email boxes, autoresponders and MySQL databases. It is probably far more economical to host unlimited domains on a single account rather than having separate accounts for each domain. As long as each domain only has an average sized website, you won't have your account suspended.

So, unlimited hosting packages may be good value for people who need to host several average sized websites. However, if you need a huge amount of disk space, then an unlimited shared hosting account may not be viable and you should consider a dedicated server.