Overselling (or overbooking) in general is when you are providing a volatile product or service that is in excess of your actual supply/stock.
A simple example would be the air travel industry where you can still book a flight (on the waiting list) even though it is fully booked, with the hope that someone cancels in the last minute. For the travel company this ensures that they max out their return of investment and guarantees that they can trade off their whole available capacity.
What happens when you take this term and put in an industry as saturated as web hosting? Rarely something good. Overselling in hosting means that you split the capacity of your web server to as many as pieces (accounts) as you can. The notion here is that you are providing your clients an indefinite amount of resources with the belief that they won’t all be used at the same point in time. While the idea makes sense in some industries (like the aforementioned) its execution in the hosting world is shady to say the least.
Have you heard of the term ‘Unlimited Hosting’? You probably have and even more – people are still often looking for it nowadays. The idea of having something “unlimited” is just too good to pass out right? It’s just in our mindset to always want more and what can be more than unlimited… well, this is how they get them. If one stops and just ponder on the idea – there is no such thing as an unlimited hard drive. So how can one offer me unlimited web space? Just that simple question has to tell you that there is something fishy. To be fair, technology is so advanced that there are indeed some resources that can be unmetered, like bandwidth for example, but if something can be physically measured then this label is a pure gimmick.
Here is how I believe the unlimited providers think. An average website rarely is bigger than a couple of gigabytes. So why should we offer exact numbers (say 10GB) when we can put more and more people on the server and monitor it as the capacity increases? This game is obviously risky – what if a user decides to use his “unlimited” space and uploads a terabyte of movies? Or if numerous clients on the server get a burst of people visiting their website? And the greed and absurdity rarely stops there, as most will still use a fraction of the whole capacity, the provider will continue to cram more and more people on the server machine. What is the end result for you? You and all other users sharing that server will gradually experience slow loading of your website, slow executions of simple queries, even downtimes. This means that you will lose more and more visitors coming to your page and not able to see it properly. And if you are the one trying to take advantage of your “unlimited” space you can soon find yourself suspended because you have hit another limitation cleverly hidden in the Terms of Service you probably never read. How convenient…
Overselling is not necessarily a big evil. In certain scenarios, with specific packages like Reseller Hosting, the provider can allow their resellers to oversell. The reseller web space is still limited to a certain number so, no matter how heavily they oversell, they will still be confined within the limits of their master account. This is overselling in web hosting done right!
My advice is to always be realistic. Always outline your project and know basic specifics like current space/traffic requirements, application used, do you need to also host email and their size. It’s even better if you have an idea of how you expect those stats to change in the foreseeable future. For example, if you expect to launch a marketing campaign pretty soon, its best to search for a plan that provides enough bandwidth to handle this expected burst. Give yourself some room to grow! If you feel that your server slows the performance of your website, ask your host to move you on another server. If its performance is also below par chances are that your provider is overselling. Best to back it all up, pack your stuff and leave…
Hope this was an eye-opener for some and gave some insight of something that IS out there and you can easily fall victim to. Give your business a chance and say NO to overselling!