Data transfer is the total amount of data, typically measured in Megabytes, Gigabytes or Terabytes, that may be downloaded or uploaded during a given month. Bandwidth refers to the speed of that data transfer (or width of the pipe).
In a typical web hosting account, an entire website (with all of its files, databases and images) comprises that website’s space (storage). If a website’s hosted plan allows 50GB in storage, and that site’s content takes up 2GB, then there is 48GB of storage left. If that same plan allows 200GB of data transfer per month, when you upload the site, the host subtracts that 2GB transfer leaving 198GB remaining.
For simplicity, if 99 visitors viewed every page of your site monthly, they would each transfer 2GB of that bandwidth, leaving your account maxed out. The host would either then cap your account or charge you additional bandwidth fees for the 100th visitor, and so on. But this never happens, and the reality is that only certain pages are viewed – a small fraction of that 2GB.
Obliviously, the more popular that site becomes, the more bandwidth it uses. Assuming the most popular content viewed is a menu, 50KB in size, downloaded 300 times daily, the transfer attributed to that menu would be 300 downloads x 50KB x 30 days per month = 450,000KB or 450MB (.45GB).
Here’s the problem. More and more audio and video files are being placed on websites drawing thousands of visitors. A two-minute video can easily consume 10MB of transfer. Take the same 300 downloads x 10MB x 30 days per month = 90,000MB or 90GB. Remember that 300 downloads in 30 days only averages 10 per day. What happens when that number reaches 100 per day or 1000?
Some hosts feature straight data fees. If you use 10MB, you pay for 10MB. If you use 20GB, you pay for 20GB. Typical bandwidth plans are based on metered, unmetered, burstable and 95th percentile billing.
Unmetered bandwidth means that the maximum data transfer rate is capped at a specific speed, but the amount of data transfer at that speed is unlimited. The cost for unmetered bandwidth is normally based on a fixed monthly charge for bandwidth consumption payable at the beginning of a monthly cycle.
There are dedicated and shared unmetered bandwidth plans.
Dedicated or guaranteed unmetered plans offer bandwidth pipes available to you and you only, that you can max out at will. Some hosts offer burst options for overages on a 95th percentile.
Shared unmetered plans means the host shares your pipe with other customers. These types of plans typically provide a guaranteed minimum but not a guaranteed maximum.
Ten (10Mbps) equates to about 3.3 Terabytes of bandwidth and 100Mbps to about 33.3 Terabytes. It goes without saying that a 100Mbps unmetered dedicated plan is quite a bit more expensive than a shared plan. The shared plan is less expensive, but your server is connected with other servers (2-6) at a switch that is normally connected to a 100Mbps switch port, or in some cases with other servers (10-20) connected to a 1Gbps port.
The expense for metered bandwidth is calculated at the end of each monthly billing cycle. Metered essentially means your bandwidth usage is monitored and you’re responsible for any overages.
Small servers with low bandwidth usage are normally billed at a straight data transfer rate.
Measuring on the 95th Percentile
Another bandwidth plan uses the 95th percentile method for computing bandwidth expense. For example, a 100Mbps plan billed at the 95th relates to 100Mbps unmetered but the connection itself may be capable of 1000Mbps. This enables your server to reach speeds up to 1000Mbps (burstable). At the end of the monthly billing cycle, the top 5% of the speeds are removed, then the 100Mbps is subtracted, leaving any overages.
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