A ‘Service Level Agreement’, commonly referred to by its acronym SLA, is an understanding of service between two parties and is specific to the performance level or scope of service that will be provided.
A web hosting service level agreement will specify what kind of guarantees or warranties the service provider shall provide the hosting account under.
It will also provide what action can or will be taken if the service provider fails to meet the specified scope.
Web Hosting SLAs
In the web world, an SLA is a common term when talking about web hosting. Though SLAs can get very complex the simplest models include specifics of a refund of monthly fees if an uptime guarantee is failed to be met. It’s a service contract with payback if the terms are not met.
How Web Hosting SLAs Work
For example, if the service level agreement states the hosting provider will provide 99.99 percent uptime and there is an outage lasting longer than approximately 4.3 minutes in a 30-day period, the provider would then refund some of the customer’s money.
Some SLAs measure in 24 hours or weeks, though the monthly agreement is the most common in the web hosting industry.
An SLA may not just refer to server uptime/server downtime, it can and often refers to technical support response time as well.
There may also be exceptions in the terms and conditions for scheduled maintenance, hardware failure, and changes made to websites or servers by the customer. Consider these a “limitation to warranty”.
Understanding a Web Hosting SLA
It’s important that you understand your hosting service level agreement and understand exactly what it means.
Marketing Tactic or Worthwhile
Many vendors provide their customers an SLA as a guarantee, a way to make them feel better during the purchasing decision – i.e. it’s a marketing tool.
However, it’s typically not as simple as “if your site goes down, we give your money back”.
The typical web hosting SLA compensates the customer an amount equal to the value of time their service was not provided (outage). An example:
Host Guarantee: 99.99% Uptime (no more than 4.3 minutes of downtime in 30 days)
Actual Outage: 60 minutes
Time Outside SLA: 57.3 minutes
Your Hosting Fee: $200/month
Refund provided by SLA: $0.30 (rounded up)
It Could Make Sense for Large Infrastructure Needs
You can see that downtime is quickly going to surpass what is reasonable for your business long before the managed hosting SLA provides you any real financial satisfaction.
I often advise my clients that SLAs are certainly something you want to research and understand when you are hosting some real infrastructure, otherwise, for small infrastructure or shared plans, it’s just not going to matter from a business perspective.
Many Website Outages Won’t Even be Covered by a Typical Web Hosting SLA
When it comes to hosting, an SLA will typically cover connectivity and not your specific site or application performance.
Basically, it means that the hosting company’s connection(s) to the internet has to be up and running and that the network your hosting infrastructure is on is up and running (or at least as much as they guarantee).
Notice I said nothing about the performance of your website. If your website’s performance should drop and/or the site even is offline, unless it is a DIRECT result of the host’s network connectivity (not your code, not the web server, or any other reason), then it is probably not covered by the SLA.
How We Deal With Web Hosting Service Level Agreements
We don’t… OK, that is not entirely true.
We Often Maintain SLAs with Our Infrastructure Providers
FatLab often maintains SLAs with many of our service providers, these however are exclusive to our relationship with these partners and not passed on to our clients.
These SLAs Are Not Passed to the Client
For our hosting clients, we provide a “best-effort” guarantee. Basically, if you have an issue with your site and we can not resolve it in a reasonable amount of time then we will take steps to move the affected website to a new infrastructure.
A Web Hosting Server Level Agreement Does Not Make Sense for Our Clients
If you look at my example above, you can see the refund programs don’t make much sense.
- It would raise our costs to put a true SLA monitoring program in place (this would raise our prices).
- Even if we were refunded 100% of a client’s hosting fees, our client base would still be more worried about downtime.
In my opinion, it is a waste of time to fight over how many pennies or even dollars are owed for a little bit of downtime. Instead of accounting each month for pennies owed we are going to do everything in our power to provide the best infrastructure available and rectify any situation that may arise as quickly as possible.
When SLAs in Hosting Services Make Sense
Direct service level agreements make sense if you are spending thousands of dollars a month on infrastructure costs. However, for smaller deals, the financial benefit does not matter as much as the peace of mind of knowing someone will simply fix it and fix it as soon as possible.