Why limit disk space usage?

Aka: Why don’t you offer unlimited storage? or Why do you not offer x gigabytes of storage for free?

From time to time we get asked questions relating to disk quota allocations and why we start at 100MB instead of offering multi-gigabytes or even unlimited disk space.

In this article I’m going to address this question to try and foster a better understanding of how this effects the environment and why we operate in this way.

There are four main areas to cover here:

  1. Impact on the environment
  2. Cost of server storage systems
  3. Maintenance and general house keeping
  4. What is actually required versus perception of need based on the wider market

1. Impact on the environment

We are primarily an environmentally friendly web hosting company and we consider the impact on the environment of every decision we take regarding our hosting systems and product offerings.

As every householder knows, especially with ever increasing energy costs, the more power you use, the greater your utility bills. Servers (and disk storage in particular) can use huge amounts of power. A typical server will be using a similar amount of power to one of the large halogen flood lights people sometimes have in their gardens; except this light is on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The mantra goes: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reducing the amount of power and resources we use is the best way to help protect our precious natural resources. Even though we’re using solar and wind generated energy to power our systems, the less we use, the more is available to power other peoples lives and reduce their reliance on fossil fuel based energy supplies.

The way this relates to disk storage is very simple; the more disks we have spinning, the higher our energy usage, the higher our costs (which we would invariably have to pass on) and therefore the higher our impact on the environment.

Fortunately, non of this is really an issue, because web sites are by necessity small for the most part – a well crafted web site with optimised images will load much faster than one that hasn’t been optimised for space efficiency and this is a huge benefit to the site owner, the site visitors and also helps with server disk space usage and reduces latent power consumption.

2. Cost of server storage systems

This is more significant than most people think. Consumer level hard drives for regular office and household PCs are now thankfully very cheap and offer large storage capacities enabling us all to enjoy the benefits of digital photos, music storage and all the other things many people take for granted these days.

One side effect of all this cheap storage is that many people no longer have to worry about house keeping and deleting things to recover space. More on this below.

Server storage on the other hand, is generally around ten times more expensive for the same amount of disk space.

On top of this, unlike most general use PCs, we also have to implement high quality data protection and redundancy measures. This invariably means using anywhere up to three times the amount of disk space we have available to store copies of data to make sure we don’t lose any if a disk fails. So this pushes up the cost again and at this point a given amount of server storage is now up to 30x more expensive than the equivalent cheap PC drive.

We have two options as a business here:

  1. Store customer data on cheap PC drives and hope they never fail so we can sell cheap storage space.
  2. Continue as we are and educate and enlighten people to the benefits of this way of being (and there aren’t really any negatives here)

We choose option 2. We always will. This is the only way we can sleep at night and know your data is as safe as we can make it and that our services will have the uptime people quite rightly demand of modern hosting.

So there is a cost. We have to factor this in to our pricing because otherwise we would be out of business, and that would obviously be no good for us, but also no good for any of our existing or future clients who rely on our business for their web presence. Our target is to operate a sustainable business; sustainable for the environment and sustainable for ourselves and our clients.

3. Maintenance and general house keeping

Now here’s a thing; way back in the day, computers had less than 1K of storage (around 1,000 characters) yet somehow we managed to make them useful. It’s not so long ago that even a single gigabyte of storage was a thing of the future and 10 megabytes took a whole room of space aged washing machine sized appliances to manifest.

During the period of rapid innovation that ultimately led up to today’s mass storage devices, one thing that was fairly constant was the need to only store what was necessary. This helped simplify our digital storage lives in a way (though perhaps it didn’t feel like it at the time) because we literally couldn’t hoard files or digital clutter when storage was at a very hefty premium.

In terms of web sites, this ideal of only storing what is necessary and optimising the use of that storage (e.g. through image compression) is a very good practice to maintain even today, because as mentioned above, optimised web sites are good for site owners, visitors and good for business (because a fast well maintained website means more happy visitors).

Because we sell storage in blocks of 100MB, this creates a situation where (in an effort to try and minimise their costs) people will hopefully start to think about what is actually required versus what they can get.

4. What is actually required versus perception of need based on the wider market

Unfortunately, like with most modern industries, everyone is trying to offer bigger, better and more than their competitors. This leads to races to offer the biggest amount of whatever in the market for the least amount of money, and this is great for consumers, to a point.

Usually though, hidden beneath these claims are hard to locate policies regarding fair use of the said unlimited resource (we have a fair use policy also, click here to view) and how they handle things if you go over the fair use limits (which may not always be in a way you would hope with some offerings out there).

Unlimited or large allocations are essentially operated like insurance policies. The company concerned will be massively over subscribing their services and just hoping that not everyone uses the amount of space they’ve offered (or if some clients start to, they may pull out their fair use or other policy to prevent "abuse" spoiling it for everyone else and protect their precious resources, which are in fact limited in reality).

On the downside though, we live on a finite world and most of our resources are limited, so encouraging people to think otherwise is not helpful for anyone.

Because other hosting companies are offering gigabytes of storage, people often wonder how they could possibly fit into the amount of storage we’re offering as a starting point. This is simply not a problem for the vast majority of customers though.

For 99% of our clients, somewhere between around 10p and 35p per day will get them all the hosting space they actually need with us.

And when you stop and think about the service that is on offer for this kind of money, it’s actually quite phenomenal. 24 hour, non-stop, computing power, storage and network connectivity running on enterprise grade equipment out of professional data centres, full monitored every minute of every day and emergency response to critical situations.

There probably isn’t anything else in IT where you get this level of service for so little outlay. Take for example a regular UK broadband connection – in most cases, if this goes down out of office hours, you have to wait until the next weekday morning to get a response and the cost of broadband is significantly higher than hosting. Another example outside of IT might be television services from Sky or other companies where the cost is likely to be £1 or more per day.

To figure out what you actually need verses the perception of gigabytes, usually it’s as simple as downliading your main website code to a folder on your computer (or ask your web designers for help with this), then see how much disk space is actually in use.

We hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your findings. If you need any assistance with this, please do not hesitate to contact us for further guidance.

 


We sincerely hope this article provides a useful insight into our thoughts, products and policies surrounding disk quota allocations.

Please contact us or use the comments facility below to engage us if you have anything you would like to say surrounding this.

Please note: all comments sent via our website are fully moderated before being made live to prevent spam and abusive or offensive content.

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