October 13, 2015

    The Reality Behind 'Unlimited Storage' in File Sharing

    The word unlimited is getting tossed around more and more by cloud storage, file sync and share or FTP service providers. Unlimited bandwidth, unlimited file size, unlimited users… and now unlimited storage. Well, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to offering unlimited storage, it is pure puffery. It is an exaggerated claim of which you should be very leery.

    There is always a ceiling

    All storage systems are made up of hard drives. Hard drives are made up of magnetic discs and magnetic heads that read and write on both sides of the discs. Each side of a disc is divided into concentric tracks and each track into sectors of 512 bytes. Therefore, there will always be a physical ceiling -- 100% of the time. Don’t kid yourself.

    Can’t you just keep adding hard drives to storage arrays and end up virtually unlimited storage? No. Every version of Windows or Linux has limits on the overall amount of filesystem storage that is addressable by the operating system (OS). Every software or service provider chose to build their platform on one particular OS filesystem or another. Therefore every FTP service provider has some sort of logical storage limit on each server they place into service.

    “Take as much as you need”

    Some FTP service providers tell you that you can have as much storage as you think you need and then they will give you more storage if you run out. Well, technically that is not “unlimited storage”; it is “limited storage, with unlimited free upgrades”.

    Why do some providers claim to offer unlimited storage? Because it is enticing to think that you will never run out of space nor pay for more storage. But, the trick is that they don’t even base their pricing on storage! They base it on the number of user accounts and charge you something on the order of $15 or $30 per user per month. They entice you with lots of storage, then they charge you a ton of money per user.

    You could easily end up spending thousands of dollars per month for as few as a hundred users. No wonder they can just keep giving you more free storage when you need it. They are making a fortune off you! Examples of services with this pricing model are Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, Sharefile and Smartfile.


    Hosting companies have been counting on “slippage” for years. They tell every customer they can have X amount of storage. In reality, they know you won’t use the space that they are giving you. Most FTP service providers play the law of averages by selling the same storage capacity to multiple customers. This is called over-subscribing. Be sure to ask your provider if your storage space is guaranteed.

    Sharetru is the only company we know of that allocates storage to every customer, therefore guaranteeing that you get what you pay for. One Sharetru customer will never compete with another customer for the same space.

    “You mean backups Count, too?”

    Whatever storage amount you are promised, you expect the provider to back it up for free, right? Not necessarily. You do get free backup (and geo-redundant disaster recovery) from Sharetru. In fact, Sharetru will back up all your files with a 5 day retention. If you turn over your files daily, this means that you are getting up to 6 times the storage limit you are paying for from Sharetru – your active production files plus 5 days of backups.

    Don’t assume everyone plays by those same rules. BrickFTP, for instance, only backs up deleted files and those backups are also counted against your storage limit. If their primary storage systems fail, you are out of luck. They can only restore files that you have already deleted. What good is that?

    You Don’t Need Unlimited Storage

    Don’t forget that every file you transfer or share with another party exists first on your own computer or network file server. You really only need a temporary place to upload a copy of the file so you can allow someone else to download another copy. Once both parties have a copy of the file, why would you risk leaving another copy sitting in the cloud, no matter how secure you think it is? You wouldn’t, or at least you shouldn’t.

    So, the reality is that your file sharing or secure FTP storage is empty 90% of the time. All you should need is enough to store all the files that need to be delivered in a 24-hour period, or maybe a week in the extreme. Sure, there are cases where you want to leave files online for longer durations, for example the term of a project. But, it is never wise to leave extra copies of files in the cloud just because you have “unlimited storage”.

    Key Takeaways

    • You want just enough storage for your transient data files.
    • You are much better off with an FTP service provider whose price is based on storage and not as much on users.
    • Look for one that gives you unlimited user accounts for a flat monthly rate, like Sharetru.
    • A provider with a business continuity plan will include free backup and disaster recovery.

    Tag(s): FTP

    Martin Horan

    Martin, Sharetru's Founder, brings deep expertise in secure file transfer and IT, driving market niche success through quality IT services.

    Other posts you might be interested in

    View All Posts