Very few of us have come across the term SLA. Nonetheless, this is a very significant aspect of a hosting company as well as the whole hosting business. As a potential customer, you must know the details of SLA before you decide on the best host for your website.
What is an SLA and Where Do I Find It?
SLA is short for Service Level Agreement. These are the contractual agreements which take place between two parties - the client and the service provider.
Within these agreements, there are clear clauses specifying service details its time-period, cost, availability etc. Typically for internet-based services, the SLA includes specifications concerning MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures), MTTR (Mean Time To Repair or Recovery), the responsibility of data rates, the party committing a fault and other measurable factors. The two parties agree upon the clauses after having long discussions over these factors to arrive at a mutual agreement.
The service provider is bound to deliver all the requirements mentioned in the SLA. This way, the client can ensure having the service they expected and signed up for.
Normally, the SLA will be part of the terms of service or in the same section of the hosting provider's terms of service. The SLA won't be very long so be sure to read it carefully and ask questions about anything that isn't clear before you purchase hosting.
Why is SLA Important in Web Hosting?
SLA is important for both the customer side and the web host side. This is because the clauses laid out on SLA are proof of all conditions the two parties agreed on during the sign-up process. So if either of them violates or ignores any of those conditions, then the other party can bring this forth and take necessary actions against them.
Especially in web hosting, the SLA includes all detailed information about use and amount of the hosting resources. It also mentions the time period of service, response time and issue resolution time-frame. For example, if you call their support team about an issue and wait for a response. SLA will tell you how long this waiting period can be - ten seconds or ten minutes.
Thus, the SLA ensures transparency and fairness on both sides. It also prevents any undesirable obstacle in their business relationship through clarity of the service standards.
Benefits of SLA
Preparing an SLA can prove to be very beneficial for you for a number of reasons:
If the web hosting service falls short of the terms of the SLA (e.g., uptime), then you are entitled to compensation. Look for an SLA that explicitly and clearly defines under what conditions customers are entitled to compensation.
Any company who is serious about their business and commitments made in that business would want to have a formal document citing all clauses of a partnership. This is an indispensable part of professionalism for web hosting companies since it proves their confidence and reliability to customers.
3. Customer Commitments
When you sign up with a web host having SLA, you know that this company really abides by what they have put out on the document. There is no room for any false claims here. So you can be sure of their commitment to customers.
You will also get to know about the exact measurements of the services through SLA which will prevent any future misunderstanding. To cater to each client properly, some companies also prepare customized SLAs for the customers with unique requirements.
4. Key Performance Indicators
An SLA mentions all Key Performance Indicators or KPIs of the agreement. By clearly establishing these performance standards, both sides can easily measure if the provided services are up to the mark. This will help the provider to keep their focus on customer satisfaction and enhance their service quality accordingly if it fell short before.
5. Prioritizing Issues
By going through the SLA, you will get a clear idea of how long the hosting company will take to handle the issues. These agreements mention the timeframe for resolving such issues, as well as the time taken to respond to your call. So there remains no room for confusion between the two parties about what the customer can expect when a service problem occurs and how the provider prioritizes it.
The Common Components of an SLA
SLAs can be of many types and for multiple industries. However, certain points fall common in all of them. Some of them are mentioned below:
Basic Service Specifications
At its most basic, an SLA must mention the type of provided service along with all additional details. It should include specifications like what the service includes, what it does not offer, how long it will be available, the price rate and so on. It also mentions the responsibilities of each party clearly. Besides, it also covers the maintenance areas like network connectivity, dynamic host configuration, domain name servers, etc.
Desired Performance Level
The SLA should clearly state what performance level the customers desire and if the provider can meet that level. This is where the hosting company can clarify the exact service parameters to the customer and find out if it sits well with them. The expected metrics of this discussion may include availability, possible frequency of disruption and responsiveness of the vendor.
In this part, SLA covers how the parties will monitor and supervise the performance levels. It usually includes gathering information, preparing statistical reports, how often to form these reports and how the customers can access them. This is a crucial component since this will tell you how good or bad the provider is doing in fulfilling his promises.
Reporting Issues and Resolution Time-Frame
This part will specify the procedure of reporting an issue including the contact details and order of steps to follow. It will also state the time window for reporting and resolving that issue, along with what happens if either crosses that time period. The time period within which the provider needs to resolve this issue is called issue resolution time-frame.
Response time refers to how fast the provider responds to a problem that the customer has reported. This lets the customers know exactly how long they have to wait before a representative of the provider replies. Usually, the investigation process regarding the issue officially begins right after this reply.
Compensation for Incidents
In case the service provider fails to meet the mentioned requirements, the SLA will also specify what compensation web hosting customers are entitled to following an incident. The provider needs to make compensation in some way which may include a refund for the customer or credit on the hosting account.
Customers can also exercise their right to terminate the service contract.
The SLA Points to Focus On While Choosing Your Web Host
Now that you know about SLA, you need to pay attention to some points next time you have to choose a hosting provider. By reading the clauses concerning these factors thoroughly, you will know if the respective company can match your hosting requirements:
1. Uptime Percentage
This is where the provider mentions how long they can keep your website available to its visitors on the internet. Typically, this uptime percentage revolves within the range of 99.9% to 99.99%. Both seem pretty convincing, but the ones claiming to deliver 99.99% uptime often fall short of their promised ratio. Sometimes the uptime level can go down to even 99.8%. In both cases, the company has to pay you a compensation.
Point to note here - the uptime does not include the time during scheduled or emergency maintenance. Downtime refers to the time when one cannot visit your website due to network or server failure.
2. Support Hours
If the hosting company has a particular timetable of providing technical support to its customers, they must clearly mention it in the SLA. Typically, this does not apply to the big names in hosting since they provide support 24/7. But if you are in the mood to experiment a little with some other company that interests you, be sure to check out this part and see if it suits your working hours well.
3. Response Time
This will specify how the hosting company deals with all the issue reports coming to them (which is usually the first come, first served basis). This section also mentions the maximum amount of time a customer needs to wait before a customer support representative responds. It also covers what the customer can expect if their call goes unanswered or message stays unread. Usually, the support people send an email to the reporting customer in such cases.
4. Repair Time
Similar to response time, the repair time or resolution time states how long the customer has to wait for the problem to get solved. Many vendors left this out of their SLA. But if you want a secure future and efficient performance for your website, you need to choose a hosting company that specifies a deadline for resolving an issue and strongly stands by it.
5. Backup and Restoration
The SLA must mention how frequently the website data backups will take place and how fast one can restore the data.
6. Severity Levels
Some SLAs offer different response time and repair times with respect to the severity level. This level determines how critical the issue is and if it needs immediate attention. All the time-frames and severity levels are defined in charts for easy readability. Read this section mindfully to see if you are okay with the definitions and their respective time-frames.
7. SLA Compensation or Credits
SLA Credits typically refers to the compensation or refund amount you will get when the provider fails to meet the SLA's requirements. This can be applicable for occasions where they fall short of the uptime percentage, the response time or the repair time. Review this section to see if the clauses mentioned here are reasonable, immediate, impactful and correctly calculated in respect of the total contract price. This is what motivates most companies to deliver their promised services on time and with the highest quality.
If you see “Notice” on the SLA document, pay extra attention to it. This is where the provider will mention the conditions you must follow to take advantage of any SLA credit. For example, it may include a specific way to contact the support like dialing a particular phone number or sending email to only one email address. If you don’t follow this procedure accurately while reporting the issue, the response time or repair time for that issue may not even begin.
9. Termination Right
The document must mention clearly that you can exercise your termination right if the provider violates the SLA conditions on multiple occasions. The standard termination provision allows providers a 30-day cure period. This may seem way too long in comparison to the small time window of response time or repair time. So you must have a separate provision citing your termination right with respect to the frequent downtimes, several missed deadlines or some other breach of SLA that happened more than once.
SLA Glossary of Terms
In order to understand all clauses mentioned in the SLA, here are some common terms you need to be aware of:
MTBF stands for Mean Time Between Failures. This is the average time between two failures of the provider.
MTTR or Mean Time To Recover is the time a provider takes to recover from a power outage or service outage.
ASA is a metric to evaluate response time. ASA is short for Average Speed to Answer. It is the average time the support team takes to answer your call or message. Usually, the unit of measurement for ASA is second.
TSF or Time Service Factor is important for the provider. It refers to the percentage of calls the support team has answered within a specific timeframe.
TAT or Turn-Around Time is the time the provider or their assigned team takes to complete a particular task.
FCR stands for First-Call Resolution. This is the percentage of calls which did not require any further step to reach a solution. That is, the recipient from support team resolved the issue of the caller during that very call.
This refers to the number of calls which the support team did not pick up or respond to.
SiteGround: Example of a Good SLA
There are a number of good hosting companies that offer strong Service Level Agreements, though they're not always easy to find. SiteGround is an example of an excellent hosting company that puts the full text of their SLA right in their terms of service.