When you are searching for hosting accounts, you will often see “unlimited disk space” and “unlimited bandwidth” as top features. A few years ago, hosting providers would give you a clear limit on how much space and bandwidth they would give you; if you exceeded either one, your hosting provider would either a) charge a lot for more space or bandwidth, usually without even having sent you a message you were approaching your limit, or b) shut down your hosting account, again usually without warning. So “unlimited” was a really good thing.

What Does “Unlimited” Mean?

It means if you are using your hosting account for hosting a normal personal or small-business site, they don’t monitor your disk space or traffic. It doesn’t mean you can host a file sharing service for thousands of customers, or host thousands of hours of video for a movie rental business or porn site, or have millions of site visitors like a large business would.

If you show up on their list of accounts using the most server resources, you may get instructed to reduce your usage. These resources include disk space, bandwidth (how many bytes are transferred and/or transferred at once), memory or CPU usage (a program running out of control), number of files stored (huge number of files slows down the server since the file index gets enormous, and operating systems limit how many files can be on a single hard drive).

Host Gator says it this way:

There are no set limits on the disk space or data transfer (bandwidth) that we provide in our shared and reseller hosting plans. We want you to have the resources you need to build a great online presence.

That being said, we do require all customers to be fully compliant with our Terms of Service and utilize disk space and bandwidth in the normal operation of a personal or small business website. While it is rare, we may need to put constraints on accounts that are using resources that impact other customers on the same server.

Typically, customers only run into issues if they use their accounts for storage or file sharing, which is not what our services are intended to support. In accordance with our Terms of Services the disk space and bandwidth you use must be integrated into the normal operation of your website.

For Example, customers who are affecting other clients or are using 25% or more of system resources for longer then 90 seconds would be in violation. Please see our TOS or contact us for complete details and restrictions.

If you need more bandwidth or disk space, pay your hosting provider for the extra amount you need. Don’t flame your hosting provider about “they said unlimited” when you’re using more resources than 99.9% of their customers.

Also, look for ways you can accomplish what you need while using less disk space or fewer files. For example, instead of using 100 installations of WordPress, you probably could use WordPress in Multi-Site mode, which lets you host “unlimited” sites in a single installation of WordPress with dramatically less administrative work. Or if you have to individual installations, for example you are reselling hosting and your customers want full control, use “symlinks” to point all the program folders to the one installation.

Maybe instead of storing small amounts of information in a huge number of files, you could make a database, and get faster performance, more flexible searching and reporting.

Instead of keeping backups of your files by copying all files into duplicate folders, you should get a backup program that will put your files into a single .zip file; and all but the most recent backup should be kept on a different location, maybe a DVD at home.

If you are hosting a personal or small business web site, and have been told you are close to the limits your hosting account has, that probably means you are making a strategy mistake, and fixing it will be more beneficial to your business than paying more for a “better” hosting account.

A more expensive hosting account would actually be better if you need better performance (a content delivery network of servers in many locations around the world), tighter security (for financial or confidential information), more memory or CPU power (for very complex programs, that are tightly integrated with Internet access), or close monitoring (for example, to make sure your money-making site is always running during your major product launch). If you need more hardware or more people taking care of your web site, you’ll have to pay for it.