How Much Does One Terabyte Of Bandwidth Cost?

This is going to require you to use your imagine, so just role with it and let’s see if there’s anything useful the be learned from this exercise.

Imagine you had a 55026 byte file (which happens to be size of the minified version of jQuery 1.3) that you needed to serve on the web. Beyond that we expect to use exactly 1 terabyte (TB) of bandwidth per month from browsers downloading our file.

There are two general approaches to dealing with this, use some sort of content delivery network (CDN) or put it up on a server some where. The traditional CDN approach is nice, but also tends to be pretty expensive. Hoping to stretch our dollars a little further we’ll skip the CDN option for now and see what the costs are for a dedicated server who’s only job is to serve up this 55026 byte file. The question then becomes, what’s the best deal per TB per month?

With that question in mind I went looking at some of the dedicated server providers to find out what the lowest cost was for servers that included at least 1 TB per month. To make comparison easier I didn’t include setup costs.

Layered Tech: $169 (2 TB/month)
The Planet: $149 (1.5 TB/month)
Superb Hosting: $119 (2 TB/month)
Hostway: $99 (2 TB/month)
Server Beach: $75 (1.2 TB/month)
Cari.net: $60 (1.3 TB/month)

There are plenty of others, but this gives a reasonable sampling of per month costs. Remember, we aren’t comparing hardware specs, just what the base entry costs are for serving 1 TB per month.

This is where person A sticks up their hand and says,” Joseph, why didn’t you include Amazon EC2 in that list?” Reasonable question, let’s see what the minimum cost would be for 1 TB per month running the smallest EC2 instance for one month. This is really easy to do using the AWS monthly calculator. To keep things simple we’ll set instance hours to 744, data transfer out to 1000 GB and everything else to zero.

Amazon EC2: $244.40

The bandwidth costs alone for EC2 is $170.00 per month, the cost of an entire server at Layered Tech, the most expensive option on our list.

About this time person B grumbles something insulting towards person A and then speaks up and says “that’s just dumb. Just put the file on an Amazon S3 bucket and skip the server part entirely.” Not an exact comparison, is still one way to answer our question of how much it costs to server 1 TB of data. Sticking with our simplistic model I’m going to set the S3 storage and incoming bandwidth values to zero.

Amazon S3: $170

Not surprisingly the bandwidth costs for S3 are the same as EC2.

Person C can’t take it any more, he reaches over and slaps person B on the back of the head. “Hello, this is exactly the sort of thing that Amazon CloudFront was designed for.” This edges us near the traditional CDN approach, minus many of the spiffy CDN features. Any one want to guess how much it will cost to server 1 TB from CloudFront? We’ll set everything but the US out going traffic to zero.

Amazon CloudFront: $170

I know, amazing, the same exact cost as EC2 (for the bandwidth) and S3. Now in reality we’ve low balled this in all of the Amazon cases because there are other costs that come into play.

AWS (EC2, S3 and CloudFront) is going to charge you at least $170 per month for that 1 TB of bandwidth, no matter which service is being used. While AWS might be convenient it’s not likely to be the cheapest. And that’s okay if the other capabilities of AWS offset that extra cost for your particular needs. For instance, in the S3 and CloudFront cases Amazon takes care of running the servers for you.

It isn’t clear that all of the servers listed above would do well at serving 1 TB per month, that’s lot of sustained traffic. If we needed two servers to adequately deal with the load then that changes the cost structure quite a bit.

15 Comments

  1. Hello,

    Mosso is not cheap :( – http://www.mosso.com/pricingfiles.jsp from my calculations i can see that it costs about: $220 + (number of reuqest/500) * 0.01 :>.

    For the cheapest option, I could suggest using Google Code :) (i don’t know nothing about speed of these).

    Google App Engine is around $130 per 1TB.

    http://code.google.com/appengine/docs/billing.html#Billing_Status
    http://code.google.com/appengine/docs/quotas.html

  2. I did a similar pricing myself recently, but was interesting in incoming bandwidth prices. It seems the current going rate is around $0.10/GB:

    - Google App Engine charges $0.10/GB incoming, I believe.
    - Rackspace Cloud Server charges $0.08/GB incoming
    - Amazon EC2 charges $0.10/GB incoming
    - At Slicehost.com you can get a 4GB slice (1.6TB bandwidth included) for $250/mo -> $0.15/GB

  3. Definitely worth checking out different options that may target your specific bandwidth needs, like lots of incoming vs. outgoing.

  4. Speaking of cloud computing, SoftLayer is @ $100/mth for 2 TB and $100 for each add’l TB.

  5. Joe – If you reference Google’s URL for JQuery then (i) most browsers may already have the library in their cache, and (ii) even if they don’t, you don’t pay for the bandwidth.

    MD

  6. I was using the jQuery file simply as an example.

    Also keep in mind that not everyone wants to share the data that comes from using Google’s jQuery URL.

  7. Informative. How does this math for storage map to streaming of video?
    “With Nielsen reporting 138 million unique viewers in the U.S. alone. The growth in total streams is even greater, increasing 26 percent year-over-year to a total of 11.2 billion streams. In addition, Coda Research Consultancy forecasts that U.S. mobile handset data traffic will reach 327 petabytes a month in 2010. Mobile video will account for the lion share of that traffic”.

    I tried doing a map for 327 petabytes/month? It scores in millions. should it be computed differently?

    varun

  8. Streaming video has it’s own set of issues, bandwidth calculations would look very different for that.

  9. You could serve the 1TB, 100 times using a 100TB.com dedicated server. ($199) For $98, you could use their cloud service and get 10TB of transfer.

    They are on SoftLayer, which seems pretty good.

    My setup is at ThePlanet and it is been peachy since 2003. You get a better deal than the advertised price if you pick up the phone and call.

    I’d love to know, if you were launching a WordPress MU/3.0 network today, would you go with dedicated server(s), AWS or something else?

  10. This post is now more than 18 months old, I’d expect bandwidth costs to continue to drop.

    As for launching a WP network, “it depends” is best answer I could give to such a broad question. There are so many other details that weigh in on that sort of decision.

  11. Interestingly enough, 18 months and the prices are still about the same. Amazon S3 is only $20 less per TB than it was when you wrote this.

    Dedicated offerings keep the same prices and bandwidth allotment. The only thing that changed were better CPU/motherboards.

    I’d say this post has enough legs to be relatively on the spot for another 18 months! :)

  12. So if a certain ISP in the US has a soft cap for residential subscribers of 250GB/mo, that’s a value of $25+ and not that bad, I suppose.

  13. I think the last paragraph is very important:

    “It isn’t clear that all of the servers listed above would do well at serving 1 TB per month, that’s lot of sustained traffic. If we needed two servers to adequately deal with the load then that changes the cost structure quite a bit.”

    This is one of the reasons S3 seems more expensive – I don’t know if S3′s SLA states it explicitly, but I would expect that a file hosted on S3 would continue to be served reliably even with a sudden spike in traffic, whereas if the file were on a single server, a spike might overwhelm that server. One of the tradeoffs for paying a bit more for “cloud” services is the ability to handle spikes like that, without having to overprovision.

  14. Perhaps, lots of variables to consider. S3 isn’t always the fastest of file hosts either, so can a counter issue to traffic spikes.

  15. Nice article, just to add some updated data, the incoming data transfer for Amazon EC2 is now 0 (zero). You can see an evolution of costs here:

    http://aws.typepad.com/aws/2011/06/aws-lowers-its-pricing-again-free-inbound-data-transfer-and-lower-outbound-data-transfer-for-all-ser.html

    Happy 2012!

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