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What is Bandwidth (of a website) ?

On this page I'll explain what bandwidth is, why it's important that your website hosting has plenty of bandwidth, and what happens to your website if your hosting doesn't have enough bandwidth.

When you first start having your own website it probably won't matter about the bandwidth to start with. It's a bit like being the discoverer of a new territory just the other side of a ditch, and you put a plank across and declare "It's a bridge!" and you start inviting people across. It won't be a problem to start with, and no-one will ask "what's the rated load carrying capacity of this bridge?". Not for a while, anyway! Such it is with hosting, and I have seen some quite reputable Internet companies oblivious to the idea of "bandwidth", and completely clueless when they were told they had got a problem of "throttling", which is actually quite bad.

To draw an analogy, the chances are you're living in a moderately comfortable house with an electricity supply and a water supply, and the cables and pipes have been fitted to match up to reasonable domestic expected loads. The water supply is probably rated at 2000 litres per hour, which is enough to fill a bucket in 20 seconds and a bath in a few minutes, and the electricity supply is probably rated at 100 amps, which is enough to power all the lights and all the computers and the cooker. The thing is, though, there are limits. If you plugged a funfair into the electric supply and you lit up the night with neon extravaganza, and you had a huge swimming pool dug deep and tiled and fitted and started filling it up, then those domestic supplies would start to have problems.

This is how it is with bandwidth. You don't know how much demand there's going to be on your website, and it may end up a bit late to have to say "Can I please have an industrial supply fitted?".

With a website, the hosting usually consists of a computer somewhere, probably in a stacked up rack in an underground vault somewhere, and whenever anyone anywhere in the world asks to look at any of the pages of your site, the hard disc drive LED on your host's computer gives a quick blink and the data is served off across the world. If lots of people look at your website, then the server will be doing quite a lot of serving of data, and the total will add up. The bandwidth is traditionally measured as the total amount of data requiring to be served in gigabytes per month.

It may seem a strange unit, belonging in the old days, with gallons, furlongs, fortnights, and firkins, but that's how it's measured: Gigabytes per month. To put that in perspective, Zyra's cup of teaif your website is ten megabytes, and it's downloaded on average in its entirety 100 times every month, then that's one gigabyte per month. Imagine if tea was measured that way! How much tea do you drink? Oh, about a hundred and fifty gallons per month!

Some people who don't really understand bandwidth boast of their bandwidth being "so-many gigabytes", but what they really mean is it is so-many gigabytes per month.

If you're planning to build a website, and it's some fancy new scheme, then the more stuff you have on your site and the more times it's downloaded the bigger the bandwidth is going to be. Bandwidth = storage x how-many-times-its-downloaded per month.

Why it matters:

When you first start having a website, the bandwidth doesn't seem to matter, so why should you bother? The reason is, because sooner or later it could matter and it could become very expensive! What happens is, when it starts to overload, it is the mode of failure that's a problem. It wouldn't be so bad if you got a message coming in saying "Sorry to have to tell you this but your bandwidth is over-budget this month so can you please upgrade your service?!". But no, what happens generally is, not a peep out of the hosting company, and instead you get... throttling. That is, mysterious outages of web hosting. Half of the pictures aren't there half of the time, and then sooner or later the search engines give up on it as a bad job. So, just when you were about to hit the big time you are mysteriously sucked into obscurity, and all for the sake of a few hundred dollars worth of hosting. This is a problem that we have now got well and truly sussed, as Zyra's website is hosted at Vivostar, where the hosting requirement is monitored on an ongoing basis, and if it ever increases, the account is upgraded accordingly. You too can have that for the hosting on your website! Hosting bandwidth is always worth paying for, as surely as the cost of the extra plastic for another run-off of top20 hit records, or the extra cost of paper for another print-run of bestselling books, or the electricity to keep the funfair up and running.

How's that relate to Broadband?

The thing is, broadband is a way to describe the data supply to your personal computer; a personal Internet connection speed. That's a different matter to the data supply from your hosting computer for your website to the rest of the world. If you overload your own broadband it won't matter much, because any inconvenience will be only to yourself. It might be annoying, but you'll get over it. In contrast, if your hosting bandwidth on your website's server is not up to snuff, then it will be your customers who will be inconvenienced, and that matters a lot! They'll walk with their virtual feet.

My advice is: Have a good enough bandwidth on your website! Don't spoil the ship for a ha'peth o' tar! Always get your hosting company to say how many gigabytes per month they can go up to, and make sure you will get to hear of it if there's any danger of it going over that. Vivostar is an example of a hosting company that can tell you about such things. It's nice when you hear potential expressed in "terabytes per month", but this is something to aspire to rather than to have initially.