SLA: three letters to look for with your web hosting


Date: 31 October 2012

StopwatchHaving an online presence for your company has been virtually essential for several years now. And with the growing use of cloud and hosted services, finding the right web hosting has never been more important.

It's not always an easy decision. Hosting packages tend to be feature rich, and it's hard to tell them apart.

What's more, when you read the small print of many web hosting contracts, you'll find that although the provider will do their best to provide a good service, you don't have much comeback if things go wrong.

Get a service level agreement

If you're only buying hosting for a small, non-critical website, that might be ok. But if it's for an ecommerce site you rely on for income, or the cloud hosting service that runs your customer relationship management system, you need something with a little more certainty.

That's where you need to look for three letters in your web hosting company's contract: SLA. They stand for service level agreement. And they guarantee your business will receive a certain level of service from your hosting provider.

Three key elements of an SLA

Although SLAs are contractually binding, not all are created equal. Here are three key things to look for in a web hosting SLA:

  1. Guaranteed uptime. Almost every web hosting firm will guarantee a certain level of uptime for your hosting. Typically this might be 99.5%, which would mean there could be up to 216 minutes a month where your website could be unavailable. Make sure uptime is measured monthly - you should receive some sort of compensation if your host fails to achieve the promised limit in any given month.
  2. Guaranteed support time. When you need support from your hosting company, you want them to respond fast. If there's a guaranteed response time, that's the maximum time you may have to wait before a member of the support team acknolwedges your query. A guaranteed resolution time is more valuable, as it's the maximum time you may have to wait to actually get something fixed.
  3. Meaningful compensation. An SLA is only worth the paper it's written on if it entitles you to something meaningful back when things go wrong. Many hosting companies operate a sliding scale of refunds, where they'll credit a proportion of your fees back depending on how far they missed their SLA by. That's nice, but if you've lost business because they've messed up, you may want to try and negotiate a more tangible form of compensation.

Having an SLA in place should boost your confidence in your hosting company. Hopefully, you won't ever need to call on it. However, it's not the be-all-and-end-all of finding good web hosting.

If your hosting is a key part of your business infrastructure, take time over the choice. Learn a bit about the different types of web hosting available, get recommendations and ask the right questions before committing to a provider.

Stopwatch image: William Warby on Flickr.

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