What’s an SLA Worth?

Imagine a data centre service provider who offers a 100% availability SLA.  That’s pretty impressive.  Most of us aim for the five 9’s, e.g. 99.999%.  99.9% is even good with no more than 60 minutes outage in a month.  You’d have to be pretty sure of yourself to offer a 100% SLA.

For a data centre, that is actually achievable but you cannot cut any corners.  I’m lucky enough to work with a service provider who can live up to their claim of a 100% SLA.  They invested heavily in the building, people and processes to have a Tier IV facility with no single points of failure.  They haven’t had an outage since they launched in 2001.  As a result their customers can build their brand name on this.  We’re able to say that our service extends their philosophy and our service hasn’t had an outage since we launched earlier this year.

But I know of others who do claim a 100% SLA.  In fact, one of them is having their 4th major outage in 2.5 years …. right now as I type this – if you’re in Ireland it’s not hard to guess who I’m talking about.  I’m not even counting the little mishaps that they have on a recurring basis … some we know about through web forums, blogs, word of mouth, etc.  I’m not going to poke fun at them.  There’s some good people in there who’ll be stressed out right now through no fault of theirs.

However, we do have to look at the people responsible for the SLA being offered.  Their clients are depending on that SLA.  They’ve reflected that to their customers, e.g. if my hosting provider gives me a 99.99% SLA then I can pass that on to my clients.  However, if my data centre is up and down like the proverbial w***e’s knickers then I look like mud to my clients, whether they’re internal or external clients.

If you’re looking at a hosting service provider then please check out their SLA. If they claim 100% then that’s very audacious.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, just very hard.  Look at their track record and see if they live up to it.  If not, then can you believe other fantastic claims about senior staff on site 24*7, huge bandwidth, "everything is possible", etc.  Here’s what I’d do:

  • Ask for the SLA.  Check out blogs.  Web masters are always quick to point out faults so their forums are a good place to check.  If they have a status site then check it.  See if the explanation for a fault stays consistent.  If not, don’t deal with them.
  • The 2am Test: Drive up to the data centre and knock on the door.  If anyone is even in, ask to speak to the senior staff the company claims is on site 24*7.  If they lie, walk away from the sales negotiation.
  • Ask for proof of certification claims, e.g. I’m an MCSE.  I have an ID number that people can check out for proof of my claim.  I’d say the same applies for CCIE’s.  If they lie, walk out.
  • The real kicker: ask them if they do XYZ.  Let XYZ = some thing you’ve just made up off of the top of your head.  If they say yes then walk out.

Am I sounding harsh?  Honestly, no.  We all expect sales people to stretch a little.  But taking things this far is too much.  Imagine if this stings you?  It shuts down your business.  If you’re a reseller your clients will blame you, not the hosting company.  You’ve got a business reputation to maintain.  If you’re in the mission critical world then outages such as this are not tolerable.  They can possible kill people.

If you’ve suffered a hosting power outage again in this 365 day period and it’s affected your business then check out an alternative.


The hosting company having the outage finally came back online after 2.5 hours – sort of.  Some servers are still not responding.  Assuming this is their only outage this year (and it wasn’t) that’d give them a 99.97% uptime.

EDIT #2:

I just checked that company’s web site uptime (they host it themselves in their data centre).  It’s available 99.87% of the time over the last 2 years and they had 97.74% uptime in September 2008.  Not quite 100% or even 99.9%.

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