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Server Disk Space / Data Storage (in Web Hosting) Explained

What is Disk Space?

The most basic definition of web server disk space (in web hosting) is the amount of physical storage on a web server. How much disk space you need depends on what type of website and how much content you plan to host.

The more files you have, the more disk space you will need.

Web hosting companies will typically bundle up their services and offer them at different levels. For example, you might be able to buy a package that includes 10 GB of disk space, a free domain name, and 50 email accounts for $10 per month. 

Types of Web Server Disk Drives

There are essential differences between varying hard drive types (source: Avast).

Web hosts today offer various types of hard drives to provide disk space to customers. It is essential to note which type you're getting as they have different performance characteristics.

Here are the main types of web server drives available today;

Hard disk drive (HDD)

Traditional hard disk drives have been the most common type of server storage for many years. They have moving parts, making them slower than SSDs and less reliable, but they're also very inexpensive per GB.

SATA Solid-state drives (SSDs)

These are a relatively new type of drive rapidly gaining popularity. These drives contain no moving parts, are extremely fast, and are much more reliable than traditional hard drives.

The cost of SATA SSDs is higher than traditional hard drives, but this is changing as the technology matures. Today, many servers come standard with SSDs or offer them as an upgrade option.

NVMe SSD

The newest web server hard drive type is NVMe SSD. It's the fastest option available and is typically provided on high-performance web hosting plans. The difference in speed between SATA SSDs and NVMe SSDs is significant – with NVMe drives costing much more.

Example of hosting company offering NVMe SSD
You can get NVMe SSD storage in higher-tier hosting plans these days. A2 Hosting, for example, offers NVMe SSD in their Turbo Boost and Turbo Max Shared Hosting Plans. Prices start at $6.99 per month > Visit A2 Hosting to order & learn more.

Using Server Disk Space in Your Hosting Account

You can use your web server disk space in many different ways. Most people will use it to store their website files (pages, images, videos, audio, and various other categories). You can even use your web disk space to create private Cloud storage space for yourself.

In most cases, you will be given access to an FTP account so that you can transfer files to and from the web server. Most web hosts also provide free online file managers for more convenience.

How Much Data Storage Space Do You Need?

You can measure web server disk space in megabytes (MB), gigabytes (GB), or terabytes (TB). How much disk space you need depends on many factors – but it's typically less than you might imagine.

If you're new to web hosting and just starting with a simple site with a few pages, then 100 MB of server storage space will be enough for now. If you're planning to expand the website and add more features to your site (like an online store or a blog), then it's best to get more disk space from the beginning.

Some users often run out of disk space because they fail to optimize their usage. For example, images can be compressed and served in new formats like WebP to save lots of space.

Here are some common examples of how much space files occupy:

  • A text file can be just a few kilobytes in size.
  • A web image will be ten, a hundred or more times that size.
  • A single music track will average around 3 to 5MB.
  • A video file can quickly run into hundreds of MB or more.

What Happens if You Exceed Your Disk Space Allocation?

Most web hosts will send you a warning notification if you're nearing the capacity of your web storage space. If that happens, you will need to upgrade your web hosting plan to get more space.

If you exceed capacity, each web host may react differently. Some may temporarily disable your web hosting account, while others will suspend your website. It depends on the policy in the Terms of Service (ToS) document your web host provides.

How to Maximize Your Used Server Diskspace

In case you are running low on hosting disk space – here are some quick tips to optimize your used server storage.

Clean up your WordPress installation
Unused theme files, plugins, hacks: if you're not going to use them in the future, get rid of them. Lighten your database by deleting all spam comments, spam users, broken links, old drafts and WordPress post revisions.

Delete old emails from your webmail accounts
They eat up web disk and don't contribute to your website health. Download your old emails that you want to keep and trash the remainder.

Get rid of your test files
You're not using them anymore, so why keep them? Always remove your test files and installations once you're done with the testing.

Disable Awstats, Webalizer and other traffic scripts
These traffic analysis tools are excellent in performance, but they do need several megabytes and you can't be too generous if your disk quota is restricted. You can replace these tools with online services such like Google Analytics and Matomo.

Consider moving email accounts elsewhere
Your computer email client (POP or IMAP), for example, or the email apps offered by Google. And what about email forwarders? They're all excellent ways to reduce the load on your hosting account. Alternatively, you can look for an email hosting provider.

Host all media on external services
Videos, images, music files and downloadable packages can be uploaded on YouTube, Photobucket or MediaFire. Please note that these files are a major factor when it comes to reaching your webdisk quota.

Remove log files
Log files are useful because they let you monitor your hosting account activity while you're away, but there's no reason for them to remain on server. Once you downloaded and reviewed log files, you can safely remove them and free up megabytes of web disk.

Remove old/unused installations
There's no point in keeping these files on server. Old script versions and ‘ghost' files from deleted installations only eat up disk quota and don't serve to your website needs, so get rid of them.

Remove installation backups
Scripts like Wordpress and phpBB leave on-server backups at every upgrade. These files, usually in .zip or .tar.gz compressed format, are only useful if you need to re-install anything that got lost with the upgrade, or if you wish to restore the old version. If you don't, they're candidate to removal.

Minimize your CSS and make it external
You can effectively increase your website efficiency by using external stylesheets, because your pages will load significantly faster and you'll have saved several kilobytes of diskspace. To make CSS files even lighter, minimize the code by removing indentations and non-essential spaces. One-line stylesheets may not be easy to manage, but if you keep a human readable version on your computer and leave a minimized version on server, you'll win in extra space and loading speed.

How to Check Your Disk Space Usage?

If you're unsure of your disk space usage, there are a couple of ways to check it;

Checking from Your Control Panel

The fastest way to check is by using your web hosting control panel. For example, if you're using cPanel, you'd log in and click on the Disk Usage or File Manager icon. 

Checking from the Command Line

If you have command-line access to your web server, you can use the “du” command to understand where most of the storage is utilized.

To do this, log in to your server via ssh and type:

$ du -sh /home/user/public_html

This command will return a total in kilobytes or megabytes for all files within that directory and its subdirectories. 

The Myth of “Unlimited Disk Space / Storage” in Hosting

Some web hosts will try to sell you hosting plans that claim to provide “unlimited” disk space. However, this is seldom an accurate claim. If you dig deeper into their ToS documentation, you'll often find many clauses preventing you from using as much space as possible.

For example, some web hosts may include a clause stating “reasonable use.” That's a way for them to suspend accounts they feel are abusing the “unlimited space” offered. However, if you don’t abuse the account, “unlimited” does have its advantages.

Example: InMotion Hosting ToS clarify that their “unlimited disk space & bandwidth” doesn't actually mean unlimited.

Final Thoughts on Web Hosting Storage

Disk space is often one of the most misunderstood aspects of web hosting. Many users look for more space, but the correct approach should be looking for faster storage types. For example, 10GB of SSD space is far superior to one with 50GB of hard drive space.

Where possible, opt for speed over quantity. Regardless of how much space is available, Google wants efficient websites, so you’ll need to optimize yours – which will lower the demand for space in the first place.

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Article by Jerry Low