why do different hosts have such different services
I'm not talking about "obvious" differences, like linux vs. Microsoft, or having a shopping cart available. I'm talking about more basic issues, like:
Why do some hosts offer one MySQL database, and others offer unlimited, for approximately the same price? They all offer phpMyAdmin. What's the technical issue behind offering one, or five, or unlimited? And does this choice on the host's part make a difference to the user - apart from the obvious? Are there back end issues?
Why do some hosts offer 100MB of storage space, and others offer 1000MB of storage space, for approximately the same price? A gig of storage seems "too good to be true" - on the other hand, hard drive prices are going down. Does more storage simply imply that the host bought big, new, inexpensive servers lately, or is there more to it than that?
What you're noticing is a practice called "overselling", which has become quite common in the web hosting business.
What these hosts depend on is that most people will only use a few megs of disk space, and not generate much traffic - in other words, the average website. And most average websites will never use more than one database. So these hosts offer unlimited this and unlimited that to make people think they're really getting a good deal.
The catch of course is that once a customer starts using a ton of resources, the host will terminate their account under some generic TOS clause.
The hosts that offer 100-200MB, a fixed bandwidth of <10-20GB, and a single database for $5-10 per month are being much more realistic and honest with customers than those who offer more for less. On the flipside of the coin, not all customers WANT hosts to be honest...they would rather be promised the world. This makes for a confusing marketplace where nobody is really to blame.
When researching a webhost, don't bother with the specific numbers as long as they meet your minimum requirements. Try to avoid "unlimited" deals, because it's much easier for you to stay within reasonable limits if you know what those limits *really* are. Focus more on site reviews and user feedback.
You'll also find that sometimes they're talking out a hole in their head - offering unlimited instances of something which you can easily obtain unlimited instances of anyway, just to sound better than the competition.
And then you get the downright scary stuff like saying they offer webstatistics and then in the next paragraph saying they offer a java counter.
There is nothing unlimited - everything has its limit. About prices - yes there is a wide range of it and prices can vary even 10-20(!) times for the same amount of services. All this depends on marketing policy of the company, its targeted market and reputation.
Why specifically do hosts limit the number of MySQL databases? SQL disk storage comes out of your site's storage space anyway. Is it an attempt to manage server overhead, keep down the number of databases so you keep down the pings to the server? But it's an arbitrary limit. For example, I have a couple of databases that are a single, flat table - not much overhead there. On the other hand, I have a database with 17 tables - that's got to be more taxing to the server.
The thing is, I currently have five databases, and would like at least the potential for room to grow. This usually bumps me up in hosting plans, to something that has more bandwidth than I'll ever need, and more disk space than I really want to pay for (although, at 300MB with need for room to grow I'm a bit up there on that one, too).
And then, when a host offers 1000MB of disk space I start to think "too good to be true" - plus, that never makes sense when they only offer three databases with that space.
I agree, it is confusing. It is a very competitive market and there are many hooks to get you interested. When something seems to good to be true, it usually is.
Also, the broad scope of hosts is huge. There are high school kids that resell accounts and make a few dollars. Then on the other end there are multi-million dollar corporations that house huge data centers and tons of servers. What is sad is that the internet sometimes makes it diffiuclt to tell the difference at first glance.
No matter which way you go, for price or for quality, you have to do your research and see what feedback you can gather about any company. Higher quality has a higher price, but a higher price doesn't guarantee higher quality.
Price, IMHO, is among the last criteria to be used when shopping for hosting. It may be a decisive criterion, but only after/if all other things between the different hosts are rather equal. Also, this hunt for things that you don't really need, like unlimited email accounts etc. when you don't really need them is not helpful for the customer. Buy what you need and upgrade as needed.