100% Uptime! Are Service Level Agreements Really worth the Paper They’re Written on?

This week one of North America’s hosting companies announced that it was launching a service level agreement – effectively the promises and terms and conditions by which it agrees to keep your website up – with 100% uptime.

At first glance 100% uptime may seem like an amazing promise.  After all as we’ve seen in some of our blog posts, the cost of your website going down can be catastrophic to your revenues as well as your reputation.

But before anyone rushes in and signs up to a hosting service that offers 100% or the more familiar 99.9% uptime packages that are often seen, be careful.  Not all 100% / 99.9% hosting services are born equal.

There are a couple of things to consider here:-

Firstly what’s the actual performance of a hosting company.  It’s all very well offering 99.9% uptime but do they actually deliver on this?

Secondly, and we’ll talk about this in a little more detail below, “uptime” within SLAs is often defined differently, and depending on the hosting company they may have numerous “exclusions” from what counts as downtime.  For instance the 100% uptime SLA excludes any downtime caused by:

• equipment
• events outside the control of the hosting company
• client error
• scheduled or emergency network maintenance; or
• equipment or facility maintenance.

In other words, pretty much everything any anything that could possible cause downtime is excluded!

Even ignoring the possible wide interpretation of “equipment” (presumably any issue with the servers is excluded!), in this example if the hosting company were to have a 23 hour maintenance window every day, but for the one hour they were up they stayed up, they’d still consider this 100% uptime!  This is all set out in the SLA, there for us all to read, but is it really transparent?

Most hosting companies have similar provisions in their SLAs – so they’re all as good, or arguably as bad, as each other.

The other area to look at is in relation to “compensation.”  Again hosting company SLAs vary, but you want to be looking to see how much downtime there needs to be before you’re given a refund? The answer for most webmasters is you’ll not be entitled to much.

So what can you do if your website keeps going down and the hosting company argue that it’s beyond their control – and won’t refund you?

Unfortunately not a lot. Your ability to terminate your agreement is likely to be severely restricted.

Your best option, given how cheap and competitively priced hosting is these days, is to simply get a better hosting company. Far better to move your website to a new hosting company where your website stays up and you don’t lose money, rather than stay put with your existing host just to save a few dollars. That could be a false economy.  Unfortunately you’ll still need to pay for your old host but it’s a price worth paying.

So don’t get seduced by that 100% or 99.9% uptime guarantee – and do your research thoroughly before you buy.  And of course most importantly of all, ensure that you’re using a website monitoring service to monitor, detect and alert you to any downtime.  And that you have reports that you can send to your hosting company and demand a refund when they’re in breach of the SLA.

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