In a typical shared hosting environment, you pay a fixed fee for a fixed-resource hosting account.
The main resources provided to you are disk space, data transfer and domain name hosting, and so you might, for example, pay £5.95 per month for a hosting account that lets you store 500MB of data, transfer 3GB of data per month and host 5 domain names.
This worked well 10 to 15 years ago but has since failed the customer in four areas:
- you can't use what you're paying for
- you can't tell what you're paying for
- you don't get what you're paying for
- your hosting account resources are fixed but your traffic and customer patterns are not
This is fine for the service providers, but for the customers it's hardly a fair situation.
You can't use what you're paying for
Imagine you're limited to 500MB of data and 3GB of data transfer per month and you hit one of these limits. What happens?
If you store inbound data you get into quite a mess. If you sell products or services and you've hit your storage limit, where do your customer orders get stored? Where does all your inbound email end up? Will new emails simply dissappear, or will they magically arrive once you delete some old files that are perhaps not as important as you thought they were?
The data transfer limit is messier still: your hosting account will be suspended. If you're lucky you'll get away with simply paying for the excess usage.
Whatever the result of reaching either limit, the consequences are too severe if you run a small online shop and so you simply cannot afford to reach or exceed any storage or transfer limit. Your only option is to choose a hosting package that has limits you cannot reach, which means you cannot use what you're paying for.
You can't tell what you're paying for
It's just too technical to understand.
The more straightforward hosting accounts place will limits on how much data you can store and transfer along with a clear regular cost. Most people can appreciate the cost and many can appreciate what the limits really mean. How many people cannot comprehend the two resource limits?
How does 500MB translate into web pages, pictures, video clips or products? How does 3GB translate into how many customers can be served each month? If you understand what these limits mean you can appreciate how there is no real answer to those two questions. If you have no idea what these technical limits mean, how can you understand what you're getting?
The less straightforward hosting accounts detail limits on databases, email accounts, hosted domain names, dedicated IP addresses and any number of properties that become more and more technical, precise and incomprehensible.
It's hardly friendly to the general consumer when you can't tell what you're paying for. Nor is it good business sense to limit your target audience through technical barriers.
You don't get what you're paying for
It gets trickier when you consider 'unlimited' hosting accounts. With shared hosting being a highly competitive market, providers aim to out-do each other by offering greater and greater volumes of resources. This has led to hosting accounts offering unlimited storage and data transfer.
We all know that an unlimited hosting account is impossible - a given server will not have infinite disk space, nor an infinitely large network connection. In this context 'unlimited' translates into 'no artificial limit applied beyond the capacity of the hardware'. What a provider is really meaning to say is that a hosting account has plenty of whatever it is you need and that you'll never run out of whatever that might be.
Just to make sure that you really don't try to use too many resources, your unlimited hosting account will have some fair usage policy associated with it, with penalities applying if you regularly exceed what is considered to be fair.
When your unlimited hosting account is in fact limited in ways defined only in small-print legalese, not only do you not get what you appear to be paying for, but you also can't tell what you're paying for.
We all know that people don't read terms and conditions, and those few that do struggle with the legalese. To lock details away in hidden places, to ignore the way people behave and to blame the customer for not reading all the fine print is hardly a good way to make friends and money. It's hardly usable or fair. It's not quite a scam but it's not far off.
Your hosting account resources are fixed but your traffic and customer patterns are not
Online shops are busier around Christmas than at all other times of the year. Many online shops have further large variations in customer levels with the passing of various shopping holidays.
Non-commerce websites face similar but less predictable problems. If your company, or some of your content, becomes the focus of media or online attention, your visitor levels, and associated data transfer levels, increase way beyond what is normal.
This is a special case of the you-don't-get-what-you-pay-for problem, as if you have to plan for the worst-case usage levels you end up getting nowhere near what you're paying for at anything but the busiest times of the year.
Working towards a solution
It was for these reasons I started Hosting Reborn - to offer a service focussed towards the needs of the users of the service in a way that fits the users not the provider. It's by no means revolutionary. You've had pay-as-you-go mobile phones for years. My landline calls have been charged by the second for as long as I can remember. But shared hosting seems oddly stuck in the monthly contract world of business models.
A pay-as-you-go hosting service tackles 3 of the 4 problems. It's impossible not to be able to use what you're paying for, it's impossible to not get what you're paying for and your costs fairly reflect how busy your website is.
We're still working on the problem of making sure people can tell what they're paying for. However this one pans out, we'll need to figure out how to express what a hosting account provides in everyday terminology. What does 1GB tranlate to in family photos? When is a website 'small' or 'big'? There's no precise answer to these sorts of questions but that doesn't mean there's no answer. We'll continue to work on that.
The problems of pay-as-you-go hosting
Whilst Hosting Reborn removes, by definition, most of the problems of fixed-resource fixed-price hosting, new problems arise. How can you tell how much you'll be paying from month to month or day to day? What will next month's hosting costs be?
We haven't figured out a solution to these problems either, but at least we recognise the issues. It's still early days.
It's still early days.