Service Level Agreements Explained

The formal agreement established between a web hosting provider and a customer is known as the Service Level Agreement (abbreviated as SLA). This complex written document is a virtual contract; it may or may not be legally binding. The agreement clearly defines the parameters and expectations between the customer and the provider. Virtually all ISPs (Internet service providers) offer a public Service Level Agreement to customers. In imitation, the IT departments of some large enterprises have published service level agreements to the users of all departments.

The Service Level Agreement will enumerate and define every service to be provided as well as the level of service (in numerical terms). Additional clauses will address outage penalties/reimbursement, support options, customer duties, disaster recovery, performance metrics, failure management, dispute resolution and termination of the agreement.

Web hosting providers typically offer a money-back guarantee to clients. Another important promise is the uptime guarantee. Such guarantees are part of the Terms of Service (TOS).

The web host’s Service Level Agreement will precisely specify what will be and will not be provided. The SLA will specify the refund or reimbursement in case uptime falls short. The SLA will detail the exact support available for each service. The SLA will list any impermissible content or file types. The SLA will describe the cancellation policy. The SLA protects the provider in the event a customer misuses the service, promulgating hate speech, for example. The SLA will inform the customer of the availability of dial-up access. The SLA will detail the provision of usage statistics. Additionally, the SLA will detail: usage limits; acceptable payment methods; notice requirements; refund conditions; termination conditions; and customer promises. One thing to think about when it comes to an SLA is whether or not you have a way to enforce it. In order to make a claim against the terms of your agreement, you’ll need to have some third-party statistics, and this generally means working with a company that deals in SLA management. Keep in mind that many of these services may be paid, but if you’re dedicating the time to running a website, it’s something that might be worth it to you. Without having a third party report of your uptime, you’ll likely be stuck at the mercy of your web host.

The Service Level Agreement may also mention exact metrics including: service uptime or availability; hardware uptime (including power and HVAC); maximum simultaneous users; disk and/or network IO benchmarks; notification window for service changes or interruptions; response time of support staff.

Some providers will credit the customer’s account a certain percentage of the regular monthly fee for each minute of downtime — potentially waiving the fee in case of significant downtime. This is specified in the SLA.