How Much Is Unlimited Anyway?


The big news today came down from the Microsoft MVP Summit that OneDrive is not going to support “unlimited” cloud storage going forward. This came as a blow to folks that were hoping to store as much data as possible for the foreseeable future. The conversations have already started about how Microsoft pulled a bait-and-switch or how storage isn’t really free or unlimited. I see a lot of parallels in the networking space to this problem as well.

All The Bandwidth You Can Buy

I remember sitting in a real estate class in college talking to my professor, who was a commercial real estate agent. He told us, “The happiest day of your real estate career is the day you buy an apartment complex. The second happiest day of your career is when you sell it to the next sucker.” People are in love with the idea of charging for a service, whether it be an apartment or cloud storage and compute. They think they can raise the price every year and continue to reap the profits of ever-increasing rent. What they don’t realize is that those increases are designed to cover increased operating costs, not increased money in your pocket.

Think about someone like Amazon. They are making money hand over fist in the cloud game. What do you think they are doing with it? Are they piling it up in a storage locker and sitting on it like a throne? Or lighting cigars with $100 bills? The most likely answer is that they are plowing those profits back into increasing capacity and offerings to attract new customers. That’s what customers want. Amazon can take some profit from the business but if they stop expanding customers will leave to find another service that meets their needs.

Bandwidth in networks is no different. I worked for IBM as in intern many years ago. Our site upgraded their Internet connection to a T3 to support the site. We were informed that just a few months after the upgrade that all the extra bandwidth we’d installed was being utilized at more than 90%. It took almost no time for the users to find out there was more headroom available and consume it.

The situation with bandwidth today is no different. Application developers assume that storage and bandwidth are unlimited or significant. They create huge application packages that load every conceivable library or function for the sake of execution speed. Networking and storage pays the price to make things faster. Apps take up lots of space and take forever to download even a simple update. The situation keeps getting worse with every release.

Slimming the Bandwidth Pipeline

Some companies are trying to take a look at how to keep this bloat from exploding. Facebook has instituted a policy that restricts bandwidth on Tuesdays to show developers what browsing at low speeds really feels like. They realize that not everyone in the world has access to ultra-fast LTE or wireless.

Likewise, Amazon realizes that on-boarding data to AWS can be painful if there are hundreds of gigabytes or even a few terabytes to migrate. They created Snowball, which is essentially a 1 petabyte storage array that you load up on-site and return to Amazon to store. It’s a decidedly low tech solution to a growing problem.

Networking professionals know that bandwidth isn’t unlimited. Upgrades and additional capacity cost money. Service providers have the same limitations as regular networks. If you want more bandwidth than they can provide, you are out of luck. If you’re willing to pay through the nose providers are happy to build out solutions for you. You’re providing the capital investment for their expansion. Everything costs money somehow.

Tom’s Take

“Unlimited” is a marketing lie. Whether it’s unlimited nights and weekends, unlimited mobile data, or unlimited storage, nothing is truly infinite. Companies want you to take advantage of their offerings to sell you something else. Free services are supported by advertising or upset opportunities. Providers continue to be shocked when they offer something with no reasonable limit and find that a small percentage of the user base is going to take advantage of their mistake.

Rather than offering false promises of unlimited things, providers should be up front. They should have plans that offer large storage amounts with conditions that make it clear that large consumers of those services will face restriction. People that want to push the limit and download hundreds of gigabytes of mobile data or store hundreds of terabytes of data in the cloud should know up front that they will be singled out for special treatment. Believable terms for services beat the lies of no limits every time.

1 thought on “How Much Is Unlimited Anyway?

  1. Pingback: Worth Reading: Unlimited - 'net work

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