Estimating Your Web Host's Limits

Many low cost web hosts advertise “unlimited bandwidth”, “unlimited storage”, etc …

Of course, it is not unlimited. If you read the terms of service, you will find some definitions or rules setting out “reasonable” use. For the typical website the average user or small business is going to set up – these are more than generous. Don’t imagine you are going to host a competitor website to FaceBook / Google / YouTube / ebay (pick your favorite major web player) on your “unlimited” account running WordPress or Joomla! or Drupal (or whatever CMS you like) – it’s just not going to happen. Heavy duty websites need heavy duty infrastructure, hardware, and software – a low cost, generic, off the shelf solution won’t cut it (but if you have to worry about competing with the big boys, I’m pretty sure you’ve got the money to afford the more expensive stuff).

At this time, this site is hosted on one of those “unlimited” packages. I always wondered what unlimited storage and bandwidth meant.

These techniques should work with any site using cPanel as their web management interface.

Determining Bandwidth

This one is pretty easy: just download a reasonably large file from your site and see what the download speed is. I compressed an image directory and downloaded the file to my computer. REMEMBER to disable any other bandwidth using applications – torrents, IM, etc (I was downloading a Linux ISO image via torrent and wondering why my test file download was so much slower than I remembered – 10k vs. 80k). My host provider gives me about 90KB / sec:

That’s not bad. Sure, if I have a graphic heavy page, it might take a few seconds to download everything, but still acceptable.

In terms of bandwidth that works out to:

  • 720 kilobits per second
  • 5.4 megabytes per minute
  • 320 megabytes per hour
  • 7.7 gigabytes per day
  • 230 gigabytes per month

Of course, those calculations assume my site is being accessed every single second of every single hour, every single day (I wish, I really, really wish).

Things I don’t know about this limit:

  • is it per connection? (does everyone who connects to this site get a 90KB/s connection?)
  • or is it a site limit (a 90KB/s connection shared by everyone accessing this site?)

For the time being, this is a non-issue because I don’t get enough visitors to worry about several trying to access the site simultaneously (as an aside: there are 86400 seconds in a day, according to the birthday paradox, if I have 347 visitors a day to to my site, there is a 50% probability that at least two of them will try to access the site during the same second – if I have 893 visitors, the odds are 99% that at least two of them will try to access the site during the same second).

Determining Storage Limit:

This is a little trickier, but cPanel gives us a possible hint.

If you click on Disk Space Usage:

You will see how much space you are currently using:

When you go to File Manager:

And choose to Upload a file:

You will notice that cPanel specifies the maximum file size allowed for upload:

I noticed that this maximum file size changes depending on how much disk space I am using. The less space I am using, the bigger my maximum file is.

So … I estimate my “unlimited” disk space is somewhere around 41GB (used space + maximum file = 41GB). Again, this is more than any small (or smallish) website should reasonably need.

If you need to host lots of images, lots of videos, lots of files, etc, then there are services that you can use for free: Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, SourceForge and, best of all, they have the bandwidth and infrastructure to support that.