Does any hosting truly have unlimited storage?

Limits

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Lured by "unlimited" Promises?

Sometimes it's best to stay away.

Did you know that just about every web hosting company offering plans with unlimited storage might impose even have greater restrictions than plans with a capped amount of storage?

As a website owner, there is no greater priority than your data. There is nothing that you can value higher than the integrity of your data. Without data on your website, you cannot sell your brand, your product, or your service to new potential clients.

This is exactly why we recommend to most of our hosting customers to stay away from “unlimited” storage hosting plans.

 

We have spent the greater part of the year to date, researching the problem of storage space on websites, and what our customers really need.

If you have developed one or more website in your life, you know the frustration of a slow-loading site. It’s the kind of issue that costs you the most in terms of “bounce rates” (or people who leave your website prematurely).

WordPress is an amazing website management system, powering over a third of all sites in the world. And we have adopted WordPress exclusively as the platform for our customers’ websites. Unfortunately, WordPress also suffers greatly with performance when it has too many media files to process.

 

No matter how much you rely on photos, videos or other media to showcase your product or design talent, you should always locally store the least amount of media and files possible…and then reduce even that! Yup, we couldn’t be more serious!

Once you’ve accomplished this daunting task, 90% of websites will not need unlimited, or even a large amount of storage space.

Before get there, let’s take a quick look at some of the technicalities that affect your website…

Table of Contents

Spoiler Alert

The truth behind Unlimited or Unmetered storage

Quite often, the very cheapest of hosting plans offer “unlimited” or “unmetered” storage.

There’s a reason they are the cheapest. Just saying!

When delving into the fine-print you will find that they have serious limitations compared most other types of hosting.

You will usually find severely limited server resources. Think about the number of processes allowed per minute or per second, suspension due to too much CPU or RAM usage over a 90-second period, and sudden increase in your website’s traffic and visitors, even on plans with unlimited bandwidth. Bandwidth is the number of Gigabytes uploaded and downloaded on your website, including every picture or video, every time it is seen through your visitor’s browser! 

And new ways are constantly found by large hosting corporations to impose limitations beyond the actual storage used.

There are a few companies who provide more-or-less decent server resources, but the critical items above will always be there and, the ones we’ve come across have appalling customer experience. This is mostly related to unfairly difficult cancellation processes and grossly overwhelming their customers with advertising (even inside their control panel). We may or may not share more specifics on these guys later…

Some of the most critical limits in shared hosting

They could bring devastation if you're unaware!

Warning: As of 2023, this rings true even on shared hosting plans with “capped” storage! They now have many of the same limitation types. Most hosting companies we’ve researched are adopting these policies on their shared hosting. More on this, later.

i-node limits

inodes are limits imposed on the number of items in your hosting account.

 

These include files, folders, media and even emails and their sub-folders!

*Another reason why we rather give away free Business Class Email to our hosting customers. It’s hosted separately and never goes down if your website crashes! Contact us for more on this.

 

The typical inode limit is between 100,000 and 250,000 on average.

 

A brand new WordPress installation alone can easily take up 15,000 inodes before you start creating or uploading content.

 

Add security, a form builder, newsletter plugin, SEO, image optimization etc. Every plugin on your site can add hundreds, even thousands of files.

 

What if you also have email accounts, backups, other uploads in your account?

 

Not quite as “unlimited” as you expected, right?

no (or few) local backups allowed

Some providers allow a very small number of local (in your hosting plan) backups to be stored.

Others allow none at all, even if backups are enabled in your account.

 

When automated backups are allowed they will always replace the oldest one as soon as a new backup is made.

 

While this might not seem like a big deal, think of this: What if you realise your site has broken due to some updates, and you restore from a backup in your account…you realize that the only backup(s) available were made after your site broke!

 

It replaced the backups of the working site and you are stuck with a hot potato in your lap.

auto-deletion of backups

This means, even if you don’t use automated backups, and you only made an important backup manually.

 

Some hosting companies have a policy that automatically deletes any backup it detects, after a short time period (usually no longer than 2 weeks)

 

In my early years of web design, I personally fell victim to this, and lost everything in one go.

The worst part was, I only found this out when my site crashed and I needed to restore…and support politely informed me of their policy!

auto-deletion of certain file types

Blissfully unaware you upload to your heart’s content…until you need the file!

 

If this policy exists, a web hosting company will not inform you before the files are deleted.

max number of children allowed

Don’t worry, you don’t have to send your kids to a boarding house (if you don’t want to!)

 

This has to do with server resources. It usually refers to a limit on certain server or database queries, and can cause a “Server Error 500” when trying to save your work in page builders like Elementor.

 

For example, as you edit your page or post, WordPress generates an autosave, and you also save the page periodically. Each of these page revisions are considered a child in the database.

 

If you do a lot of edting you can easily end up with 200 or more revisions. Once you reach the max-children limit Elementor will not be able to save your page and you’ll see a “Server 500 Error”.

 

Luckily this can be fixed though!

In defense of most of the limitations mentioned, I have to say it’s become necessary over the years, because the “few bad apples” have misused true uncapped systems and spoiled it all for the rest of us.

 

You see, storage space alone has never been the real problem. Simply put, the real problem is: The more files on the server, the more processing is required. The server constantly indexes, updates, keeps track, optimises, and prepares the content to be available whenever someone want to access it. That is without anyone even visiting your website! Now the real work starts when 1 or 10 or 10,000 people access your site at the same time.

You can imagine how quickly the server’s “rev-counter” can run into the red…one of the big reasons for “the white screen of death”, “Server error 500” or an “error establishing a database connection”.

The more streamlined your storage usage is, the better your server will perform, period.

Of course, there are several factors that contribute to website performance, but one thing at a time.

 

Examples where actual storage space is a real concern is when people use their website’s servers as backup solutions, uploading a relatively small number of zip files, but taking up massive storage space.

This is not what website servers are meant for. It increases the costs of the web hosting providers…ultimately increasing your cost.

That’s what Cloud Storage is for! Those servers are optimised in ways that website servers are not, and vice versa.

Know what you are buying

Whilst we strongly advise against “Unmetered Storage” hosting, as well as hosting your email in the same hosting account, the choice remains yours. Just ensure you understand exactly what you are getting, and you’re happy with any compromise.

Hosting companies have had to weigh up the pros and the cons and come up with limitations that favour as many users as possible whilst hopefully doing away with most “lesser desirable” elements.

A Sad, Sad day...or is it?

The main take-away here is that we want you to focus on things more important than website storage space:

  • How optimised is my website?
  • How fast is my website?
  • How easy and inviting is my website for my visitors?
  • Is my website often accessed from mobile devices? (Many don’t have huge mobile data plans!)
  • What do I need to do, to have maintain visitors and generate more business from my website?

Sad as it is, none of these answers involve a website gobbling up lots of local storage space. That’s a good thing.

Break free from Limitations - Grow Sustainably

For several years now I have been searching for an answer to the age-old problem (well, the web-age at least): 

  1. Customers want world-class performance from their website. 
  2. Customers want to perform well in Search Engine Results (SEO). 
  3. Customers want as much storage as they (think) they need, with little to no limits. 
  4. Customers want all of it, and pay the lowest price for their web hosting.

With conventional web hosting, each of these points contributes either to higher hosting costs, or a compromise in some of the other points. On top of that? 

Your problem remains inside your hosting environment.

In recent years different kinds of online data hosting have become increasingly popular. Cloud Storage, CDN’s, all kinds of data based technologies. 

Today, it is nearly non-negotiable for websites with many visitors or lots of media to use a CDN, but it covers only a small part of the bigger picture. 

While most of us have adopted Cloud Storage as a backup or extension of our offline data, could it possibly be the doorway to a brand new era in online media management? And what does it mean for my website?

Working Smarter With What You Have

Throughout the first half of 2023 I specifically focussed on finding the best balance between low cost, improved scalability, and increased performance for our web hosting customers. 

Fully Integrating Cloud Storage with your website is the only answer that addresses both storage and performance at the same time. 

Performance had to mean some form of enhanced content delivery system and a decrease in storage space used...

I have literally spent months researching the topic and evaluating plugins that promised to help in some way to offload media delivery from the website’s core, increasing the site’s overall performance.

 

My mandate was simple.

I must find a plugin that allows my customers to:

  • Have better control over their media library
  • Provide or block access to specific folders in the media library (for freelance designers or staff members)
  • Embed content from external links or media sources (much like videos are embedded from YouTube)
  • Ultimately aim to remove all content from the local server without breaking anything on the existing website
  • This must serve customers who have existing, non-business class cloud storage like OneDrive personal and Google Drive personal (not everyone has access to Google Cloud, OneDrive Business, Amazon S3 etc.)
  • Maybe even serve and embed documents in the same way
  • It must be easy and safe to revert back to the standard WordPress media library if necessary

The words “Offload Media” has always been key in this experiment. You can’t really do this any other way.

CDN's (Global Content Delivery Networks)

Standard CDN services are a step in the right direction and there are certainly situations where they are non-negotiable for an established, busy website. In essence, they store copies of your media in various data centers all over the world, and prepares them to be displayed to your website’s visitors. When a visitor opens a page with that media, it is served from the nearest data center to the visitor’s location. The visitor’s browser downloads this media for viewing, faster than without a CDN because the data doesn’t have to travel very far.

However, while a CDN usually provides an immediate performance increase for visitors, it does not address the storage issue and related load on server resources. Conventional CDNs can also become costly, rather quickly. 

What about my customers who prefer to keep the costs in check?

CDN WordPress Plugins

Aware that the well-known “Offload Media” plugins all link to business class Cloud Storage accounts, I first set out to find free alternative plugins in WordPress.org.

So I found a few promising, “free CDN plugins”…which turned out to leave your media on your server and require an expensive proprietary CDN account. No-go.

WPMUDEV’s Smush Pro plugin does two jobs very well. It resizes and “smushes” (compress) your media very effectively, saving you a lot of storage space, and it can serve even further-optimised content from their CDN, including next-gen formats like “webP” images.

Performance enhancement as well as great performance. You can also safely revert back to serving your content without their CDN with the click of a button, but the main bummer – it does not offload any media from your server. It can integrate with a plugin that does, and it can also “smush” your images hosted on Amazon S3, but the plugin itself is not our answer in this case. Also their storage space is somewhat limited and their paid plans are often beyond what the average website owner wants to pay.

Why mention a paid plugin here? The good news is that we are an agency who fully adopted the WPMUDEV family of super-powered plugins. Our hosting clients get free access to just about everything they have to offer, at no extra cost!

I went on to find “File Management” plugins, “External media importer” plugins, “Media Embedding” plugins, and the list goes on. 

File Manager WordPress Plugins

File Manager plugins do a great job at helping you manage files in your media library. It even allows creating custom folder structures directly in the media library, and you can usually provide or block access to certain folders. Often this is in the paid version.

In case you ever need to ditch the plugin, some of these “File Managers” might not be great at reverting your media library back to the standard WordPress way, so be careful with this. [PRO TIP]: No matter which WordPress plugin you use, you should always keep in mind that one day you may have to leave the plugin behind, due to compatibility, security issues, or whatever else. 

After some time I had to decide: While File Manager functionality would be really nice, I needed to start refining my search. 

I couldn’t find a file manager that serves our main goal, to Serve media externally (non-business class storage) and decrease local storage usage.  I was willing to compromise.

External Media WordPress Plugins - AKA Media from URL

External Media importers mostly did just that, import a picture from another website or link…into the WordPress Library…onto my server. Bummer. Not one of the objectives are covered. 

There was one though, that inserted the media from a url (web address or link) into the post. You could even link the media directly from another website and it would display exactly where you placed it in the page or post. Unfortunately the control was very limited. The media is not registered into the media library, so you cannot easily reuse it, and you cannot manipulate it as a media file.

While it’s okay for legitimate use, you could open yourself up to copyright claims if you use media you don’t own.

And finally, it turned out to be a major security risk. One of my testing sites got hacked rather badly, directly through the plugin!! 

This specific plugin has since been discontinued in the WordPress repository – due to security issues.

Media Embedder WordPress Plugins

Media Embedder plugins came very close to what we wanted to accomplish, but most of them cover only videos hosted on Youtube, Vimeo etc.

While it’s exactly the type of external embedding one would need, it does not register the media into you WordPress Media Library, so you cannot manage or organise it to use again later. You have to save or remember the link for later if you plan to use it again on your site.

Photo Embedder Plugins? That’s where I crossed the line. I knew that merely embedding an external image was nowhere near what we wanted to accomplish. I embarked on the inevitable search: Paid-for, or, Premium Plugins.

Offload Media WordPress Plugins

“You said it was your aim from the beginning…why didn’t you start with this?”

I know, I know!

Since every Offload-Media plugin out there involves some sort of cost…either with the plugin functionality, or with the Cloud Storage Providers they support, I had to explore every possible avenue to find the best balance between cost, quality and convenience for our customers.

After all, we wanted to fulfil a couple of needs and every additional plugin installed brings a further load on server resources. Your aim should always be to cover as many bases as possible with one dependable and “lightweight” plugin.

We also knew that most of our customers had either a personal Google Drive account, or OneDrive Personal with ample storage included with their Office subscriptions…and we were hoping to help them utilise those.

 

Lately there’s been a few new Offload-kids on the block, but they all have very similar functionality and pretty much the same Cloud Storage integrations. And none of them offered exactly what I needed.

In the interest of not repeating all the same info in my failed attempts I opted to discuss the biggest player in this category of plugins:

 

WP Offload Media Lite and Pro.

This plugin has been around for many years with consistent good reviews and a somewhat steady flow of updates.

The free version fell off the boat rather quickly due to a bit too many limitations. The biggest issue is a simple feature, but probably the developer’s greatest cash cow in terms of luring free users into becoming paid customers. It cannot automatically offload existing media from your server. Only new media added after activating the plugin is uploaded to the cloud.

The Pro version does have an add-on which enables you to manually trigger uploading of your pre-existing media. (That upload to the cloud, and getting rid of the local server files is what we call “Offloading” from your WordPress site).

Your offloaded media is properly indexed in your media library since the local links are merely replaced with the cloud versions. You can also manage the files from inside the media library.

 

Unfortunately, another huge drawback, even the Pro version cannot upload your media directly to the cloud at all. Any media you upload via the Media Library uploads to your website’s server first, then uploads to the cloud from there.

Why is this a problem if you can opt to have the media deleted from your server after this process? Most hosts also impose bandwidth limits and if you upload a lot of media, it will could even deplete your entire bandwidth quota. Remember, bandwidth is the amount of data flow through your website’s server. So the upload into the media library will use bandwidth, and the “offload” into the cloud will double that immediately.

If you’re not aware and your host charges overages automatically, this exercise may well become a very expensive lesson learned.

Re-downloading the media to your website’s storage (if you want to deactivate the plugin) will again use bandwidth, just be aware.

 

WP Offload Media can also be very expensive. On top of your business class cloud storage buckets charged by Amazon S3 or Digital Ocean Spaces etc, you pay for the number of offloaded media managed by the plugin! Pricing starts at $69 per year for up to 2,000 media items offloaded, or $99 per year for up to 6,000 offloaded media. The cheapest plan that supports WordPress multisite is $199 per year and covers up to 20,000 offloaded media items. This goes right up to a whopping $1,199 for unlimited media!

The one positive I can add right now is that it’s an “unlimited sites” license. You pay the one fee per year and you can integrate as many sites to the cloud as you wish.

In a sense, this model is considered fair by some, since a huge company like Ghetty Images would host millions of files for a single site while you might be a startup business and only manage a small number across 3 sites. If you had to pay per site in stead of per image, your cost would be more than that of a multi-million dollar company.

 

On the other hand, I feel that this is where payment for the storage provider comes in. The plugin just manages the integration, regardless of the number of files. Just my 2 cents worth.

 

WP Cloud plugins

For the purpose of this exercise (offloading our media and freeing up storage space), this set of plugins are not for you.

They are great in their own right, but they do not integrate with the WordPress Media Library whatsoever. I really hoped they could and I even had a nice chat with the owner and developer…but unfortunately they confirmed my suspicion. 

It simply won’t do.

None of them did the job. Until…

I've never seen anything like it. It's like a CDN-Storage-File-Media-Access-Upload-Download Manager on steroids. Lots of steroids.

in-one!

Enter Joomunited

Boy, am I glad these guys crossed the borders between Joomla and WordPress Plugins!

And boy, am I happy I stumbled upon them last! Just as I was about to give up, even considering buying a previously mentioned plugin, guess how I came across this one…

After all was said and done I asked ChatGPT for advice!!! And the rest is history. From the moment I landed on this plugin’s homepage I was hooked. 

But it took me a full week of in-depth research, ensuring WP Media Folder would deliver on just about every solution I had hoped for. It exceeded my expectations.

I do not believe I’ll find a better solution than WP Media Folder by JoomUnited. In fact, I am so impressed with the plugin’s capabilities I hope to have a full tutorial available soon!

Some of the most impressive features of WP Media Folder

I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a CDN+Storage+File+Media+Access+Upload+Download Manager on steroids. Lots of steroids.

  • Fully integrated with WordPress Media Library
  • Full Media Folder Management – create and organise a custom folder structure in your Media Library
  • Complete control over who has access to what
  • Even assign shared folders exclusively to a specific user role if you wish (think design team etc)
  • Two way sync – upload either in the Cloud, or via WordPress, the files appear magically in both ends
  • Upload via your Media Library, directly into you Cloud Storage – no more storage limits!
  • Embed your media directly into pages or posts – served from your Cloud Storage – like a CDN
  • Embed documents like pdf and others, directly from the Media Library, also served from the cloud
  • Remote videos embedded via the Media Library can be seen and organised right inside your library
  • Front-end embedding of a folder or entire folder tree – with permission control
  •  Sync with any individual folder – includes all sub-folders automagically
  • Watermark your images to protect you brand or product
  • Auto rename files on upload using your custom recipe – an SEO superpower!
  • WooCommerce integration (selling access to digital products To Be Confirmed)
  • Beautiful no-fuss galleries – including a Material design
  • Compatible with page builders like Elementor and even WordPress’ Gutenberg
  • Replace an image with one click – automatically replaces the image wherever it is used on your site!
  • The level of compatibility with multisite, and also simultaneous integration with multiple cloud accounts will be tested

The offloading of your media and documents, displayed on your website via your own Cloud Storage means your server can be freed from all the storage required, with potentially unlimited storage for your website.

It’s almost like having your own CDN. Even OneDrive, Google Drive etc deliver their content via CDNs!
This bypasses bandwidth usage on your server, potentially saving you huge overage charges. All bandwidth used for media displayed on your visitors browsers are handled by OneDrive, Google Drive, or whichever cloud storage you use. And again, the smaller number of files served (bandwidth used), the more server resources are available for better performance.

Only when files are made available for download (like documents or zip files), your local website bandwidth is used. These files are first downloaded to your website’s storage, and then delivered to the visitor’s browser.


To top it all off, the pricing is just right!

At the time of publishing this article, a single payment of $69 per year gets you free integration with all the major Cloud Storage Providers, all plugin add-ons, updates and support, and use on unlimited websites.

In my opinion you shouldn’t be charged for every file that is offloaded. You probably already pay for the Cloud Storage hosting the media. Even if you have access to a free cloud storage account, it’s no skin off anyone’s back. The plugin handles the integration between your website and your storage location and that’s it.

Plus, you’re more than happy to pay the developer to help them maintain and improve such an excellent plugin, aren’t you?

Go ahead, click and see for yourself. WP Media Folder is like nothing you’ve ever seen before!

Of course the plugin is opensource, so it’s yours to use as you please…and solid documentation for developers to extend functionality through hooks and filters.

The Cloud Storage supported with this plugin currently includes OneDrive (personal), Google Drive (personal + Google photos), DropBox, OneDrive Business, Google Cloud (business), Amazon S3, Linode, Digital Ocean Spaces, Wasabi

  

*Feel free to reach out on WhatsApp for guidance on starting your journey to storage-free WordPress. We’ll do our best to assist.

If you don’t want to be concerned about all these issues, or you didn’t know the meaning of a bunch of stuff mentioned in this article, you probably don’t need advanced server access, and you probably don’t want to be concerned with website security, updates, etc.

That means our fully managed WordPress is for you.
Currently hosted on an invite-only basis, you can reach out via WhatsApp to request access.

***A side note on paying vs free: You should never, ever use plugins you got from websites offering “NULLED” plugins for a production site. Even if you’ve tested it on a testing site.

  1. “NULLED” plugins have their license verification broken for unrestricted use, but may have security features broken, too
  2. They usually don’t update automatically. Keeping an old version active means detected security issues are not patched by the developer who knows the plugin inside out
  3. They could contain malicious code, able to inflict viruses, destroy data, and harvest visitors’ sensitive information for sale and spam
  4. They might leave a backdoor open, even unknowingly, leaving you vulnerable to hacking, stealing of passwords and payment information, or even completely break your site
  5. It’s just not worth the risk
  6. While you may have more control and discretion on a site you manage for yourself, we do not allow nulled plugins or themes on our Fully Managed WordPress plans at all.
Glossary and Disclosure

 

*I did the above research personally over a period of several months and came to a conclusion for myself. Items discussed are my personal opinion and you are responsible to confirm whether any product is right for you. Items mentioned in this article may or may not lead to certain benefits to the writer. Whether such benefits are of monetary value or otherwise is determined on a case-by-case basis.

 

*You asked chatGPT to help you find a plugin?!

Don’t worry, I don’t think ChatGPT will take my job quite yet. While I use the tool extensively in research and even growing in my profession, I’ve come to learn that you do need a baseline of knowledge on the questions you ask ChatGPT. Sometimes the answers are slightly skewed or outdated and you have to understand the topic in order to guide this clever bot. Even if it’s something you don’t know how to code, you need to know some basic principles, to spot a mistake in case the AI bot had a brain-fffft. After that you usually get an accurate answer, and you learn something new! Not sure if this makes sense. You have to know something to learn something you’ve never known before! Weird, I know.