Offsetting Your Hosting

While writing a recent post on digital photography, I wanted to use some large high-quality photographs to demonstrate some of my tips. Unfortunately, at the quality I wanted to use, the images we’re fairly large and by using them in the post, I would essentially be writing the death warrant for the web server. So what can you do? In this post I’ll show you how you can host large files on a very fast, reliable server, for free! And if you want to go that extra mile, you can even still use your own domain!

The idea behind this post is to allow you to save bandwidth. Typically, that bandwidth a web site uses doesn’t come from the written content on a site, but rather it comes from images and other multimedia files. So what we will do is use Google, yes that Google, to host these large files for you. The secret lies in Google Apps for your Domain, which allows you to use and customise some of Google’s most popular application on your domain. These services include Gmail, Gcal and Google Pages. We’ll be using Google Pages.

First of all, go and get yourself a Google Apps for your Domain account. It’s not hard and doesn’t take very long. You also don’t really need to go for a premium account, the free one works just fine. Once set up you can either use the address Google gives you or you can set it up to use your own domain, Uploaded Stuffit doesn’t really matter for the purposes of what we’ll be doing. Head over to the Pages service and have a play around. The editor itself is OK as far as web based editors go, I suspect, however, you’ll be wanting to create your own pages. In the Pages service, you will also notice an area on the right hand side called “Uploaded Stuff”. If this is your first time, this should be blank. Really, this small panel opens up a whole world of opportunity to you. By clicking the “Upload” link you can upload files that appear in this panel. I’ve had a play around and at the moment I can’t actually find any files that I can’t upload. Executables are permitted, as are compressed files and image files. So go nuts. In this panel, you can click on one of the uploaded files to access it. Or even better, right click and use the “Copy Link Location” browser functionality to copy the url to the clipboard, and then just paste the url where ever you need it.

Before you get all sweaty with excitement, there is a limit on how much you can serve. At the moment the maximum total size is 100MB100Mb File Limit, which seems a bit stingy considering the 2.5Gb you get in Gmail. I guess it’s there purely to stop people using it as a file server. Also, the speed may not quite be what you expect. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the vast majority of content on this site is still hosted on my host’s server and not with Google. The reason is down to speed. I tend yo only use this “offsetting” technique where large files are involved. And usually, where large images are involved I’ll use a thumbnail, hosted locally, that links to the full sized image hosted with Google. That way, the initial page load is still reasonably fast.

As I mentioned above, I tend to use this technique when large images are involved but likewise, I would use it were I offering an application or other single large file for download. It seems an almost ideal solution, you move the heavy traffic away from your web server and onto Google’s. I’m really surprised more people don’t take advantage of it.  There are alternatives, especially when it comes to images, but none suite quite as suitable.  flickr tends to be quite slow and should you hot onto alot of traffic the limits imposed by services like image shack aren’t going to cut it.  But by far the most compelling reason to use Google is it doesn’t appear to impose bandwidth or filetype limits.  So why not go ahead and save a few pennies on your hosting bill, or even keep your site up under a barrage of digg users!