If you're designing web sites, you've certainly browsed around to website hosts advertising "bandwidth" and "transfer" in addition to "disk space." Understanding what these three terms mean can help you in your decision when picking a web host for your project.
Try this analogy: Imagine you're shipping goods from your warehouse across a highway using trucks to be delievered to customers. Bandwidth is like the number of lanes on the highway. Transfer usage would be the volume (counted number) of goods your trucks took across that highway. Disk space would be the size of your warehouse (sort of, explained below).
Bandwidth will determine how fast something loads on your site. Images, videos, and Flash movies will all load quickly with the right amount of bandwidth. Fortunately for you, nearly all hosts have more than enough bandwidth to handle your potential visitor load. (That's why terms like T1, T3, OC-something-or-other are only hidden deep in a FAQ instead of advertised as a selling point on the home page of a host.)
The bottleneck (slowdown) in most cases happens between your customer and their Internet provider, meaning the wires between their home or their business (or wireless connection between them and a router or cell tower) and their ISP's data offices. Unless you plan to pay for all your visitors' Internet bills, there is nothing you can do about this bandwidth bottleneck.
Some of your visitors will still be using old-style dial-up modems. Some will be using broadband connections like DSL or cable. Some will be using higher speed fiber optic connections. There are a lot of options for them and a lot of speed differences. This is why I note in Chapter Two that if you have a Flash web site, you need to also have a low-bandwidth text version (including some images is usually okay). In the coming years people will be using cell phones and wireless laptop cell adapters more often, so the "speed difference" will continue, not disappear.
Transfer volume, measured now in GB (gigabytes) per month, is most definitely your concern, unlike bandwidth bottlenecks that are just your visitor's concern. Let's use an example quickly to imagine what could incur a pricey transfer charge:
Imagine you have a small web site of just 10 MB (megabytes). You have loyal visitors, so for the sake of this example we're assuming they visit all 10 MB of your site every visit. Every visit uses 10 MB of transfer volume. But your site is really great: people tell all their friends, and link to it from their blogs. Suddenly 1,000 people are visiting your site every day. (That's a pretty incredible feat for a new web designer, so congratulations!)
In our scenario, we have 1,000 daily visitors viewing 10 MB of data. That's about 10,000 MB, or 10 GB (1 GB is about 1,000 MB). This 10 GB is per day, not per month. In a thirty-day month, that's 300 GB of transfer!
Your web hosting package will include a pre-set transfer volume GB limit, or will be labeled as "unlimited." If your plan is "metered" meaning it has a pre-set volume, going over your limit will result in an extra charge for every GB you use over your limit.
Unless you literally own your web hosting server, maintain it, and have a dedicated high speed connection for it (we're talking a starting price of about $300-$500 a month, not including paying someone to monitor it 24/7) your web site is going to be using a "shared pipe." A pipe is just a term for the high-speed Internet line.
If your host serves 1,000 web sites, they're all "paying" into a large "pipe" (or set of multiple pipes) to be used together. The chances of all 1,000 sites using the "pipe" at the same exact moment are extremely low, so even if your plan is "unlimited" it should always load quickly.
"Metered" hosts have shared "pipes" as well. They just choose to charge you for using them.
If you're selecting a "metered" host, think about what your typical visitor will load from your web site. If they're loading a video or Flash file, each visit could easily use 10 MB or more. If you're just designing a site with text and a few images, a visit may use less than 1 MB. It really varies greatly.
Disk usage, like transfer volume, can be unpredictable. The nice thing about disk space is even if a web site of 10 MB is loaded 10,000 times, it still only uses 10 MB of disk space. It works sort of like running a copying machine. If you're copying a ten-page paper 1,000 times, your original is still just a mere ten pages.
Your disk usage will be different depending on the type of web site you are designing.
iPage Web Hosting - The iPage plan comes with an easy-to-use Control Panel that's the best I've ever seen, a free domain name, and free security software, for $4.25/mo.
GreenGeeks Hosting - starts at $4.95/month, free setup and free domain. These guys are pretty awesome, their servers and data center is 300% efficient. Hosting here helps the environment!
Globat Hosting - starts at $4.44/month and throws in a free domain name. I recommend Globat because of how easy it is to get set up. Everything is where I want it to be. No banging my head on a desk trying to figure it all out. And great support 24/7 if I need a little help.
Yahoo! Web Hosting - Yahoo costs a little more than Globat (starts at about $10 a month for an annual package). I recommend it for many users who enjoy Yahoo Mail because their e-mail system works in the same way (similar interface, so easy to use). If this interests you, you might consider paying the small premium for this package.
1and1 - I typically only recommend 1and1 when I can sit down with a friend and explain the whole thing to them. It's made for designers who are more experienced and would benefit from the extra features in a low-cost setting. Three sites can be hosted on one $10 a month package, but configuring it all could take some extra work.