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An Unlimited Credibility Gap

To Infinity and Beyond?

To Infinity and Beyond?

Years ago, the usual stomping grounds for those of us in the hosting industry took an interesting turn as shady fly-by-night hosting providers started using the term ‘unlimited’ to describe their product plans.

These companies offered ‘unlimited’ bandwidth or ‘unlimited’ disk space as an enticement for customers to buy their products. There was a strong negative reaction within the hosting community and a sincere attempt among responsible hosts to make it known that ‘unlimited’ plans lacked credibility.

Last week it was announced that 1and1, an industry peer who I like and respect, has joined Verio, another one of the good guys, in touting ‘unlimited’ hosting plans.

I thought we had learned better.

I want to make it crystal clear that I like and respect these two hosts, both of whom offer exceptional products and services. However, I can’t help but feel that their decision to go ‘unlimited’ brings an uncomfortable level of “used-car salesmanship” to the market and hurts the credibility of our industry. I am frustrated to see good hosts go down this path.

In my tenure at ServInt I’ve learned that everything has limits. Period.

Knowing them is key to good business and preparedness.

If you take anything at all and you grow it exponentially it will reach a point where the stress imposed on the system causes it to fail. Generally you reach a point where you hit a ‘bottleneck’ and everything slows or breaks down. The clearest example I can think of this is the traditional assembly line where the entire production can only go as quickly as the slowest worker allows.

An ‘unlimited’ plan has a limit – it has to – it cannot expand indefinitely. To not acknowledge those limits is to not provide customers with vital information regarding their actual capabilities. A customer needs that information in order to make an informed decision.

Would you buy a car with a speedometer that read ‘from 0 to infinity’ or would you want to know how fast the car could actually go? Would you buy a banner ad from a site if it didn’t have any typical usage statistics and instead told you ‘potentially all the pageviews in the world’?

No! You’d want real statistics – real data – so you could set real expectations. You MAY go to an ‘all you can eat’ restaurant not knowing how much food they have available, or whether they are going to kick you out before you get full, or whether your stomach will threaten to explode. However, at the end of the day, that’s just dinner.

This is YOUR BUSINESS we’re talking about here and personally, I think customers should expect more.

Every system has a limit, defined by its bottleneck, and you should learn what yours is. In an all-you-can-eat buffet, the bottleneck is typically the size of your stomach. Even Joey Chestnut has his limits!

Responsible hosts should never offer a service unless they can actually provide it. If I put up a 100 Mbps unmetered server I can promise you that you will have the capability to push 100 Mbps with no bottlenecks. I’ll make sure you have the hardware to push it, the network infrastructure to push it, the bandwidth to push it and the uptime to push it. I will ensure I can deliver what I sold you.

How can you deliver on ‘unlimited’? You cannot!

If ServInt were to call something unlimited we would need to mean it – we would need to build a system that could host all of Google and Amazon and Craigslist and get Dugg on every page and still have lots of room to grow with no slowdowns. If this product couldn’t do all that, we’d be insincere. And yet I’m sure that most ‘unlimited’ plans couldn’t even host Google’s log files.

Some claim that ‘unlimited’ hosts outright lie about their services and kick off heavy users. I don’t know if that’s true and to my knowledge I’ve never met a good host who’s done that.

In my opinion, the real problem is a host who is unwilling to be honest about their resources. An ‘unlimited’ package is limited by the physical constraints of the provider’s infrastructure. If a provider is telling you differently they are either lying to you or they don’t want to admit to the physical limitations of their infrastructure.

It is that possibility that concerns me the most. Hosts who take the time to build a great infrastructure should scream off the rooftops exactly what that infrastructure is capable of. They should revel in the real performance of their creations.

Hosts who don’t are spinning a fairy tale – one that they can only get away with because 99% of the people who use them never get popular enough to test the undefined limits they have in place.

If you ever plan on getting popular – on having a good day that pushes the boundaries of what you are used to – please consider the ramifications of ‘unlimited’.

After all, there are no upsides to being down.

Photo by Jayniebell.

About Christian Dawson

Christian Dawson has been with ServInt since 1998 and has helped it grow into one of the most innovative Cloud providers in the world. As ServInt's COO, he has spearheaded its green initiative, and drives ServInt's efforts in fighting for customer privacy and consumer protections. He does so in part as co-founder and Chairman of the industry trade association, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition). You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.

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