March 24, 2010

Estimating Your Bandwidth Needs


Hostway Team

By Monique Martin
If you’re shopping for a Web host, one of the many things you need to consider is the amount of bandwidth your site will need. But, what exactly is bandwidth, and how many gigabytes do you really need?

Understanding Bandwidth

Think of bandwidth as a highway. The more lanes there are, the faster the traffic can flow. The cars on that highway are the data that people are downloading from your site. Every time someone accesses a page of your Web site, they’re actually downloading files into their browser. The reverse is true, too. Although not as significant, uploading files and checking your email also creates traffic.

The files your visitors download might be HTML, images, video or sound. Those files take up space on the highway. The bigger the files, and the more people accessing them, the more traffic you have and the bigger your bandwidth needs. If you don’t have enough lanes (bandwidth), the traffic gets jammed up, and your visitors experience delays.

How Big Is a Gigabyte?

Bandwidth is usually described in terms of gigabytes per month. But how big is a gigabyte? Computer storage is made up of bits. Bits make bytes, bytes make kilobytes, kilobytes make megabytes and megabytes make gigabytes. There are 1024 megabytes in each gigabyte. When you bought your last computer or memory chip for your digital camera, you chose a storage size in either MB or GB. The same measurements apply to bandwidth.

To give you a sense of size consider this: One MP3 song is roughly 4 MB. So, with one gigabyte of space, you could store about 250 songs. But, your Web site visitors aren’t just downloading songs, they’re downloading HTML files and images with every visit. And, hopefully, there’s more than one person visiting your site.

Guesstimating Bandwidth Use

There’s no precise way to estimate your bandwidth use, but there are a few things you can consider that should put you in the ballpark. Here are the things you’ll need to know first.

  • Average number of visitors per day
  • Average number of pages viewed
  • Average page size

If you allow visitors to download files, you’ll also need to know the average number of downloads per day and the average file size and factor that in.

The formula is pretty basic:
Average number of visitors per day x number of pages viewed x average page size x 31 (days)

200 visitors x 10 pages x 40 KB page size x 31 = 2,480,000 KB or 2.4 GB

In the above example, you’d want to build in a fudge factor, so your estimated bandwidth needs would be approximately 3 GB per month. If your Web site is made up of big, bulky pages, you can eat up bandwidth very quickly.

Many Web hosts offer unlimited bandwidth plans. They’re really "more than enough” plans because there’s always a limit. This removes the guesswork, but it can come at a premium. It’s just one of the many things you’ll need to consider when shopping for Web hosting.

About the Author

Monique Martin served as Chief Operating Officer for a successful online insurance marketing firm for five years.

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