As web hosting companies continue to try to get a leg up on one another, many of them include in their offerings different types of “guarantees”. This is the point at which we remember that, like any other, these are businesses, and the “guarantee” is a marketing tactic.
We also remember, though, that this word does still mean something: it bounds the web host to certain types of behavior, with potential consequences if they don’t follow through. What do guarantees mean then, and what can you expect if your host can’t meet them?
Disk space and bandwidth – Not so much
One of the most popular is the guarantee of “unlimited” disk space and bandwidth. It shouldn’t take too much of a technical expert to be suspicious of this one. Of course, disk space and bandwidth can’t possibly be unlimited. Walk into any one web host right now, and you can calculate the precise amount of data they can hold and data transfer they can handle. Granted, those numbers will boggle you if you think about them too long.
To run afoul of this guarantee, though, won’t require you to go that high. It will only require you to go high enough that you are long past using what you pay for. It’s impossible to say how high this is, and maybe some hosts will bite the bullet and not say anything no matter how bad you abuse their systems. Likely, though, what will happen is beyond some very egregious point, your host will ask you to either upgrade your account or (politely) take a hike. Since they are free to do business with you or not they aren’t technically breaking their pledge. So just don’t host the entire EMI back collection on your $3.99 account.
Uptime – Possibly more true
Since uptime is one of the most critical features a web host can provide, providers attempt to guarantee percentages of time your web site will be accessible. This is another one to take with a grain of salt. There is clearly only so much a web host can control, especially outside of its own facility.
99.9% uptime is the industry minimum standard, and is the only one you should really put much stock into: at a minute and a half a day, it’s a reasonable expectation. Just adding one more 9 to that brings it to questionable enforceability. 99.99% uptime means that your site is down no more than one minute per week. 99.999% gives them 26 seconds a month to get your site back up.
Now granted, web hosts are doing more real work to back up these guarantees, such as the increasing use of multiple data centers in different cities. Just make sure that your host gives you some indication that you will be compensated if your site goes down for longer than 26 seconds.
Finally there are support guarantees, and these you should keep them to. Given the chaos that can go on in any business, let alone a web host, these can be brazen claims depending on the specifics and one you might need to rely on. Hold their feet to the fire on this one.
Guarantees from any company many not be completely reliable, but that doesn’t change your need for reliability. Know what you’re getting into with them, and know what your options are if they fail.