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Consumer Alert

Web Hosts Routinely Offering 300+ MB Packages
at Low Rates May be Ripping You Off!

Note: Alert Release Date: August 19, 2001
Though the numbers have grown larger since this time the same activities still apply.

If you have a web site, or are considering a web site, you will most likely find yourself looking for a web host to deliver that site to the Internet. Whether FutureQuest, Inc. is on your list or not, we offer the following information in hopes of accomplishing two things:
  1. Protecting you from making a decision that ends up costing a great deal of time and money later

  2. Further exposing one of hosting's "greatest secrets" in an effort to end the deception so that honest business ethics can be returned to the hosting industry.

Don't Be Fooled: More May Actually Be Less!

Much the same as an airline will overbook the available seating; many web hosts oversell the amount of disk space actually available on their server(s). The concept behind this technique is that not all of the web sites will use the amount of disk space that had been purchased which in turn makes more disk space available for the host to resell to others.

Until recently this method has proved to be a successful one for both the site owner, by lowering their costs, and the host, by raising their revenues. Recently however, the competitive nature of web hosts, along with the demand for more resources by site owners, has forced a large number of hosts into what many consider to be deceptive marketing schemes to survive. Sadly, just as an overbooked airline may leave a traveler stranded and hurrying to find a new flight, site owners are left scrambling to find a new host because their current host has terminated their account.

In an effort to offer "Bigger and Cheaper" services than their competition, web hosts have found ways to advertise unrealistic amounts of disk space while preventing the site owner from actually being able to utilize even a fraction of what they thought they had purchased. This is accomplished by implementing a number of restrictions that usually are not explained before the sale. To the site owners dismay, as the host advertises larger package allowances the web site owner actually receives less and becomes more restricted!

What types of restrictions are we talking about?
  1. Types of files permitted on the servers. Hosts may restrict archive files such as zip and tar as well as media files. Web sites that contain files for their visitors to download are often the first sites to be terminated, without warning, by their web hosts.

  2. Restrictions concerning which files will be included with the disk space offerings. Files that are not linked from the homepage and/or any file without an html extension may not be included in the offer. This restriction prevents the site owner from storing backup, personal, or archived files within their allocated web space as well as scripts and/or content-rich media.

  3. Number of files permitted within the account. This is especially detrimental for a web site that contains a community message forum, as forums tend to require many small files to function properly. A site owner with a message forum may only be using 10% of the advertised disk space offering but, because of the number of files required to operate the message forum, they are unable to continue with the host.

  4. The amount of disk space actually available. If the host is selling more than three times the amount of disk space they have available then problems are bound to arise. The size of the hard drive should not be a great deal smaller than the amount of disk space being sold. "Out of disk space" errors can cause data corruption; this is not something that should be risked.

  5. The amount of disk space immediately counted against the total amount purchased. Often core operational files such as pre-installed scripts, raw log files, or statistic files count against the included disk space therefore lessening the amount of disk space available before the first file is uploaded by the site owner.

  6. Resource percentages within the terms of service that note any web site using more than the specified percentage of available resources will be terminated. Often the package purchased advertises more resources than is permitted by the terms of service.
Restrictions like these remain hidden from the site owner until the web site grows to a size that the host is no longer able to service, even though the site has not actually gone over the purchased package limitations. This is when the host will send the site owner a termination notice explaining one of the restrictions as a means of removing the web site from their servers.

"Once a host implements restrictions that prevent the site owner from using the disk space purchased, they have stepped over the line that separates practical business sense from false advertising," said Jason Ellis, CEO of Hosting Solutions, Inc.

But how does one determine if a web host's space offering is an honest one?
  1. Ask the host what size hard drives are being used within the server and how many other accounts will be sharing the same server.

  2. Divide the hard drive space by the total number of accounts to find the average amount of disk space available.
Let's use FutureQuest, Inc. as an example:
(Updated For Accuracy of FutureQuest Services October 27, 2003)
  1. FutureQuest uses 73GB (73,000 megabytes or MB) hard drives in each server and average 275 accounts per server.

  2. 73,000MB / 275 accounts = 265MB per account on average.
Since FutureQuest's average account allowance currently ranges from 50MB (lower cost more sold) to 550MB (higher cost less sold) of disk space, with the smaller accounts being the most popular, this appears to be an honest and realistic offering.

The same equation with a number of other hosts is often shocking. It is not uncommon to find a host with:
  1. 18GB hard drives in the server with 250 accounts sharing the server.

  2. 18,000MB / 250 accounts = 72MB per account on average.
If this host is offering packages that include over 300MB of disk space per account, especially at low costs, the average of 72MB per account on the servers appears unrealistic at best. A host with this type of offer is most likely restricting the disk space in such a way that would prevent the site owner from actually using what they purchased. The owner then puts himself at risk for termination ("Sorry, you're bumped").

"Experienced site owners realize hard drives have limits and know what restrictions to watch out for. It is the newer site owner that is often enticed by the competition's marketing scheme," said Bob Johnson, IT Service Manager for FutureQuest, Inc. "I'm just glad we held onto our ethics. I'd rather lose a few potential customers because of the competitor's hidden restrictions, than to have to explain to our current site owners why they can't use what they thought they were paying for!"

"If it looks too good to be true then it probably is. The consumer needs to use their best judgment. It is also important to visit message forums, where other educated site owners can be asked about the host being researched. There are many open communities on the Internet with other people who are more than willing to share their knowledge," said Todd Ebersviller, Owner of HyperHosting, LLC.

I thought hosts stopped doing this when bandwidth overselling was exposed?

Unrealistic amounts of bandwidth are still advertised as well. However due to consumer awareness, the majority of web hosting companies have discontinued the selling of "unlimited bandwidth". Unfortunately many hosts still turn a blind eye to the problem and continue to feed on the uneducated web site owner. Bandwidth was the first resource to experience the same problems that have been described above for disk space. It seems that as the consumer became more difficult to deceive with bandwidth, hosts simply shifted the deception to disk space.

Consumers can see that hard drive prices have gone down at their local computer store and hosts are able to use that as a means of solidifying their new ability to provide more disk space with each package. It's important to note however that hosts should be using a higher quality hard drive (which costs more) and that hard drives of all varieties still do not come with an unlimited amount of capacity (though it would be nice).

Choosing a web host shouldn't be this complicated!

No it shouldn't, but until consumers stand up against these types of deceptive marketing techniques by educating themselves and holding the host's accountable for their advertised offers, it will continue to be problematic. And it will get worse. The good news is that there are plenty of host directories, informative articles, and communities filled with other site owners willing to share their knowledge, freely available on the Internet. The following links will help simplify the process of searching for a web host that is right for you and your web site.

Informational Resources A Few Short Stories: Lessons Learned Reviews Discussion Groups

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