skip to main content
Close Icon We use cookies to improve your website experience.  To learn about our use of cookies and how you can manage your cookie settings, please see our Cookie Policy.  By continuing to use the website, you consent to our use of cookies.
Global Search Configuration

Ovum view


Although "unlimited" offerings of anything can be attractive marketing tools, they can generate serious unintended consequences if they are implemented without a clear understanding of how humans react to abundance.

Whether storage or seafood buffet, "all you can eat" has limits

In late 2014 Microsoft made a surprising announcement that all Office365 users would get "unlimited" OneDrive storage. The announcement was significant in differentiating Microsoft from other cloud players, such as Google and Amazon, that maintained individual storage limits for end users. A year later and Microsoft have recently advised that unlimited storage will no longer apply, citing concerns with individual users consuming 75TB or 14,000 times the average 5GB OneDrive user.

Microsoft will suffer negative customer perceptions from users with larger than average needs, who will now find they are required to pay for their "unlimited" consumption. However, it is interesting to understand the drivers of human behavior that are at play.

Ovum has previously identified the challenges in maintaining useable performance in public Wi-Fi deployments. As the density of users increases, it is common for performance to degrade to be unusable. This is a modern day example of the "tragedy of the commons," the behavioral economics theory espoused by the ecologist Garrett Hardin, where, in the absence of constraints, individual consumption decisions deplete a common resource to the detriment of all involved.

Outside of the technology industry, purveyors of "all you can eat" buffets have known about this for some time. Once you remove the financial constraint, a percentage of customers will "overconsume" and eat into your profit. Buffet managers typically implement physical limits by setting a "one plate only" caveat.

Internet service providers also need to manage the risks implicit in offering "unlimited" broadband packages. Although these packages are unlimited in the sense that there is no additional charge for more consumption, most agreements limit performance once a certain threshold is reached to ensure a few heavy users don't degrade performance for the rest.

A fundamental concern with the concept of unlimited cloud storage is that it breaks the essential premise underlying "as-a-service" delivery – that costs are proportional to usage. The more you consume, the more you pay. The rising cost not only acts as a break on demand, but also provides revenue to deliver the additional resource. Take that constraint away and there is only one possible outcome, whether we are discussing storage, bandwidth, or seafood buffets.

What all these examples have in common is the need to manage resource consumption based on the outliers in the customer base rather than the average, and to anticipate the human trait of overconsumption in situations of abundance.


Further reading

Enterprise Case Study: Scalability, Reliability, and Security for High-Profile Events, IT0007-000815 (May 2015)


Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Public Sector

Recommended Articles

  • Internet of Things

    IoT Viewpoints 2018

    IoT Viewpoints explore the IoT opportunity in 2018 and beyond. Download our latest e-book to get our newest collection of thought leadership articles on the emerging IoT trends, technologies and opportunities.

    Topics IoT

  • Consumer & Entertainment Services

    US pay TV: Is it facing an existential threat?

    By Adam Thomas 28 Mar 2018

    With US pay TV having endured the worst year in its history, thoughts have inevitably turned to the future. The likelihood remains that the immediate future will remain highly uncomfortable for everyone except the scaled multinational digital platforms.

  • Enterprise Services

    5G: Another technology in search of enterprise use cases

    By Evan Kirchheimer 26 Apr 2018

    Service provider interest in justifying 5G investment through its potential to open new revenue streams from the enterprise segment is growing ever greater.


Have any questions? Speak to a Specialist

Europe, Middle East & Africa team - +44 (0) 207 017 7700

Asia-Pacific team - +61 (0)3 960 16700

US team - +1 646 957 8878

Email us at

You can also contact your named/allocated Client Services Executive using their direct dial.
PR enquiries - Call us at +44 788 597 5160 or email us at

Contact marketing -

Already an Ovum client? Login to the Knowledge Center now