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I'm developing a webapp where my users can save a lot of images, videos and audio on my site.

I need a hosting service which offers large disk space. Many hosting services say 'Unlimited', but do they really offer disk space in GBs and TBs?

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"If it sounds too good to be true, it probally is" –  Martijn Dec 12 at 10:30

7 Answers 7

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Hosts that advertise an "unlimited" service normally limit the service in their terms and conditions. For example, this passage from Hostgator's terms limits bandwidth usage:

You are allocated a monthly bandwidth allowance. This allowance varies depending on the hosting package you purchase. Should your account pass the allocated amount we reserve the right to suspend the account until the start of the next allocation, suspend the account until more bandwidth is purchased at an additional fee, suspend the account until you upgrade to a higher level of package, terminate the account and/or charge you an additional fee for the overages. Unused transfer in one month cannot be carried over to the next month.

They don't tell you exactly what the "allowance" is in terms of GB/month; just that there is an unpublished allowance that may cause them to suspend your account. (Their services advertise "unlimited bandwidth".) In the same terms of service, Hostgator impose a limit not on disk space (which is "unlimited") but on the number of files ("inodes") created:

The use of more than 250,000 inodes on any shared account may potentially result in a warning first, and if no action is taken future suspension. Accounts found to be exceeding the 100,000 inode limit will automatically be removed from our backup system to avoid over-usage, however databases will still be backed up. Every file (a webpage, image file, email, etc) on your account uses up 1 inode. Sites that slightly exceed our inode limits are unlikely to be suspended; however, accounts that constantly create and delete large numbers of files on a regular basis, have hundreds of thousands of files, or cause file system damage may be flagged for review and/or suspension.

As you can see, there are limits on the service even though it's advertised as "unlimited".

It's usually safe to read "unlimited" as "generous", but it's a mistake to assume that unlimited means infinite resources. Read the terms of service of the web host you're considering, and follow up with their support people if it's not clear.

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I used to be a web host and there is no such thing as unlimited. Period. It is physically impossible.

Here are two examples from back in the day.

A host offers 100gig of disk storage. You say great and buy but only use about 8 gig. And so do the others that buy. Hosts count on this and over sell the storage they actually have available. With the new technologies available to hosts, these numbers now get even bigger.

A host offers 100gig of transfer quota. You say great and buy but only use about 8gig. Fine. But the next guy is getting close to 40gig so the bandwidth manager prioritizes the throughput rate trim on this account so that your transfer rate slows down disproportionately during peak requests.

There are many more tricks too. But these are just a few.

Honest and high quality hosts have realistic limits in their plans. Avoid a host that promises the moon and hands you a moon pie. (actually, that sounds good right about now... with a dr. pepper too?)

There is no such thing as unlimited and there is no such thing as free and there is no such thing as 99.999% up-time (that is an impossible number). Don't buy the hype.

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Unlimited is BULLSHIT. It is simply NOT possible to provide unlimited disk space. Always read the Terms of Service of a host when buying a plan with "unlimited disk space". They often let you use a lot, but when they begin to notice (you're beginning to use too much in their opinion) they will find a way to suspend or terminate your account.

Never, ever use a host that promises "unlimited disk space". Trust me. Not only because it's not true; also because in most cases, the 'bad' hosts offer unlimited disk space. Honest hosts are often the best hosts (they have their hearts in the right place and really care about your website) and honest hosts don't promise "unlimited disk space".

Don't use a host that promises "unlimited disk space". If you do, make sure you read their Terms of Service very carefully; there's often more information about that hosts' definition of unlimited. Some hosts like Site5 promise "unlimited disk space", but they do put a nice link next to it with an explanation of it. Don't buy it!

Some hosts refer to unlimited as 'unmetered'. Unmetered often means the same as unlimited, but because many hosts have noticed that many people don't appreciate the term 'unlimited', they changed the term to 'unmetered'. That's what I explained earlier:

They often let you use a lot, but when they begin to notice (you're beginning to use too much in their opinion) they will find a way to suspend or terminate your account.

So remember: there's always a limit!

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Unlimited is a gimmick. If they provide you with unlimited space and bandwidth, they will set a cap over what you can store. If you have backup files OR large files uploaded, they will ask you to download/delete it. They will ask you to store files only if they are for web use.

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They are unlimited as long as you don't cause any problem to their server. Most of the time, their server is only good for small to medium websites. They don't put a specific limit onto you, but if your website is too busy and causing problems to their server, they'll ask you to upgrade, which I find that pretty reasonable. Because if your site is too big, you shouldn't be on a shared hosting plan in the first place. I am currently using smarterasp.net, so far so good for my medium size sites.

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As a disclaimer, I am in the middle of relaunching my hosting business as WebHost.io which is trying to push site owners away from shared hosting and towards dedicated AWS instances.

Unlimited makes for great marketing. Typically storage and bandwidth are advertised as such. Services that advertise this way are almost always shared hosting which is done based on averages. The reality is the average website that is on shared hosting uses less than 100MB of storage. Bandwidth is a tad more, but the vast majority of sites use only a few GB's at best. Any site that will exceed these levels by any large margin wouldn't be caught dead hosting on a shared platform and will have long since migrated away in search of more CPU, Memory, IOPS. These 3 elements are things the shared hosting providers never discuss, and yet, I would much rather have better of these than more storage or bandwidth.

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If you want truly unlimited storage, you'll need to look into cloud file storage like Amazon S3, Rackspace Cloud Files, etc.

They are truly unlimited, but you will have to pay for what your users utilize.

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You will pay only for what you use.. –  Achu Aug 17 '12 at 18:38
    
Nothing is truly unlimited. –  William D. Edwards Dec 12 at 11:51

protected by dan Dec 12 at 7:33

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