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Know your data, save your dough.

In the last decade, data storage technology has grown exponentially. An unfathomable amount of storage space on your desktop at the beginning of the century now comes standard on your smartphone in the form of a mini-SD card the size of a cornflake. This increase in storage has resulted in the ability to create media that holds much more data, (such as the progression of the CD to the DVD to the Blu-ray) which in turn has resulted in a need for much higher bandwidth speeds when transferring such large volumes of data. Patiently waiting for the off-tune wailing of dial-up hasn’t cut it for years. So from byte to gigabyte to terabyte and beyond, what’s it all mean? Hopefully this article can help you make sense of it all.

The Basics
Digital data typically comes in the form of bits and bytes. There are roughly 8 bits for every 1 byte. When looking at your hard drive, it may say that you have 500 GB, short for 500 gigabytes (commonly called gigs). In relation to other units, that could be measured as half of a TB (terabyte), 500,000 MB (megabytes or megs), or 500,000,000 KB (kilobytes). As you may have noticed, each name comes in increments of 1000. So for every 1000 KB there’s 1 MB, for every thousand of those you get a GB, then to TB and so on an so forth.

I Have No Idea What That Means
Well, think of it this way. That 4-minute long MP3 you’re listening to right now is about 3.5 MB. However if you were to stream a 50-minute long YouTube video at 720p resolution, it would likely use upwards of 1 gig of bandwidth. Then things start to get out of hand…streaming an uncompressed copy of a Blu-ray will put you in the range of 50 GB or more.

What About My Bandwidth?
A common misconception about bandwidth speeds is the confusion between bit and byte. With my 10 Mb connection speed, am I going to download that 1 GB YouTube video in 10 seconds flat? Unfortunately, no. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) advertise their connection speed in bits. So that 10 Mb/second bandwidth translates roughly to 1,250 KB/s or 1.25 MB/s. The simple way to keep track of this is by taking note of the capital and lower case “B.” B for Byte and b for bit.

Another aspect of note concerning your bandwidth is to take special care of your ISP’s bandwidth cap. Many ISPs nowadays have a certain amount of data that you can transfer to or from your computer before they start charging you overage fees. This can range anywhere from 25 GB to 500 GB, so you will typically only need to worry about it if you’re a media junkie streaming Hulu and YouTube for 8 hours a day! It can definitely be a concern though for those who utilize their bandwidth frequently.

Web Hosting
The limited amount of bandwidth (both speed and capacity) available to residential homes and small businesses is simply not sufficient to run a successful website from. The more traffic your website gets, the more it is exchanging data with its viewers. Web hosting companies have data centers filled with massive amounts of storage and incredibly fast bandwidth speeds. This allows you to handle any amount of traffic without hassle, prevents hiccups for you or your customers when dealing with your website, and means that you don’t have to deal with the technical details and maintenance involved in running a server.

Some Other Tidbits
Realize that the majority of media online is compressed. If you go to Hulu and start watching a movie that says 1080p, it is not going to run you 50 GB. What they mean by “1080p” is simply that the original format that they ripped the movie from was 1080p. To make it watch-able on a reasonable bandwidth connection, they have to compress the data to the point where the data transfer is around 2 to 5GB.

Know what you’re paying for. I can get 100 Mb/second in the area where I live. Upon closer inspection though, it mentions in the fine print that there is a bandwidth cap at 100 GB, after which they begin charging upwards of $10 per gig. This in a household that goes through an average of a little over 1 TB per month! I bought the 20 Mb/s small business line with no cap. The point is, always research these kinds of purchases thoroughly because there’s always an asterisk next to the price tag.