What is a Service-Level Agreement in VPS Hosting?

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There are tons of features you could look for when you’re exploring VPS hosting. With dozens of major VPS hosts around, you’ll never lack options! One of the important features you might need could be hard to notice if you’re not familiar with a little bit of technical jargon: The Service-Level Agreement (SLA).

For professional hosting, the SLA might actually be one of the most important factors.

That raises the question: What is it exactly and what does it mean for you?

Let’s venture deeper into the topic and learn all there is to know about the SLA. You might find that knowing what to expect from a Service-Level Agreement helps you pick the best host for you — and it can even help you save money after you’ve made your decision.

What’s an SLA All About, Anyway?

Your SLA is part of your hosting contract. It helps to quantify the amount of time that your site will be “up” and accessible to users. No matter what time zone you’re in, your VPS host is always keeping track of your site’s availability. After all, you could have users from all over the world who want to enjoy your site at any time of day or night, even when you’re sound asleep.

SLAs specify an amount of time — out of 100 percent — that your site will be accessible throughout the year. The “gold standard” for SLAs in the world of VPS hosting is 99.999 percent. The three zeroes make a big difference when you are hosting critical applications that many people rely on. Of course, 99 percent may be fine for more casual applications of your Web hosting.

Hosting companies aren’t the only entities out there who have an SLA. If you look at a major business that has its own internal technology team, odds are good there’s an “internal SLA” in place. Just as with you and your hosting company, the internal SLA is an agreement about how much a certain site or application will be available to users.

Why’s an SLA So Important?

An SLA is a binding part of the agreement between you and your hosting company. In most VPS hosting agreements, it is one of the few items that gives you leverage if your host fails to live up to your expectations and provide you with the service you need.

If your site’s downtime exceeds the amount specified in the SLA, you may be able to secure some form of compensation from your VPS host. Generally speaking, any downtime exceeding your hosting agreement will cause future hosting to be credited to you at a reduced rate.

In especially egregious cases, you might find that you are entitled to cash or other awards as a result of a company’s failure to meet the terms of an SLA. Your recourse in the event of an issue, as well as what kind of compensation you may expect, will be spelled out in your contract.

Things to Know About an SLA

There are many different reasons why a site might go down. Sometimes, the owner of the VPS hosting account might be responsible for downtime. In this event, the VPS hosting company is protected from liability. After all, you could choose to bring your site down at any time and for many different reasons outside of your host’s control.

Generally, downtime due to server maintenance on the part of the VPS host will be counted as part of your SLA. That said, some hosting contracts are structured so this isn’t the case. Likewise, many of the most advanced VPS hosts provide “rolling patches” to enhance their customers’ VPS software without having to bring any sites down. For these companies, maintenance downtime happens only in the event of a major hardware failure or hacking issue.

Downtime resulting from a problem with your VPS host’s network is the key when it comes to honoring an SLA. A good VPS should be able to prevent most issues that will result in long downtimes, including the most common hacking attacks. However, there could be major technical issues or natural disasters that will bring down a VPS for some period of time. Once that happens, the clock is ticking on your SLA.

What Should You Look for When Comparing SLAs?

If you divide up the year, you’ll see a single percentage point works out to about 3.65 days. VPS hosts with 99.999 percent SLAs can only leave your site down for a fraction of that time. It makes sense, then, that you should look for a high SLA.

Bear in mind, though, that most companies will promise very impressive SLAs. Not all of them can keep their promises! You should read review sites and look at customer forums to find out which VPS hosts have the best track record.

A company that strives to maintain a good SLA can still have some “bumps and bruises” along the way. If you’re going to deal with time-sensitive transactions, however, you should look for VPS hosts known for having only a few minutes or hours of downtime each year.

Do You Need An Industry-Leading SLA?

A great SLA that a company is truly committed to is a good sign that it really wants to retain loyal customers. Likewise, there are some situations where your site will benefit handsomely from an SLA that’s near the head of the pack.

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