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Service Level Agreement

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What is an SLA?

SLA is an abbreviation for Service Level Agreement, which is a formal written agreement created between two parties: two individuals, an individual and an organization, or two organizations.

SLA is firmly entrenched in the web hosting industry and related businesses. It clearly states the defined expectations with which the web hosting provider and the client will do business together.

Because of the importance attached to this document, it can be somewhat complex, almost like a binding contract. The content of an SLA document typically focuses on two factors:

  • The kind of business in focus
  • The service provider and clients

General principles of an SLA

Some generally acceptable clauses in a normal SLA should spell out the following, among other areas:

  • Every specific area of service that will be rendered
  • Penalty when service is derailed (e.g., during an outage), not provided, or poorly finished
  • Options for support
  • Performance
  • Client duties and/or responsibilities
  • Resolution of disputes, either corporately or legally
  • Termination of ongoing services being rendered

Guarantees and SLA in the web hosting industry

Web hosting companies have a number of guarantees they offer clients, principally to convince them to become paying clients. The most often used is the money-back guarantee, while the second is the uptime guarantee. These guarantees are usually detailed on the web host's TOS (Terms of Service) page.

Web hosts and SLAs

SLAs for web hosting providers document exactly what the web host will and will not provide. In addition to the above guarantees, these specifics typically appear in web host SLAs:

  • What happens if guaranteed uptime is not reached (e.g., refunds)
  • Levels of support offered for what services (e.g., managed or managed servers or VPSes)
  • Cancellation policy
  • Types of content or files that are not allowed

If disputes arise, the SLA can be used to determine if the web host provided agreed-on services. In this way, it can be used to protect the web host. If clients use their web space for files or purposes not allowed in the SLA, or if they complain about a service that isn't named in the SLA, the web host can point to the SLA to show that the client was in the wrong.

Web hosting clients and SLAs

SLAs also offer some protection to web hosting clients. They can check the SLA for information on these details, among others:

  • Whether the web host allows the types of content and files that they plan to upload
  • What clients agree to when creating an account with the web hosting provider
  • Limits to resource usage
  • Payment policies and methods
  • What the conditions are for a refund and how much notice they need to provide if they decide to cancel
  • The conditions under which the web hosting provider will terminate services, and whether refunds are provided after termination of services

No SLA?

When a web hosting provider doesn't have an SLA at the company website, both web hosts and clients are at risk. Clients can accuse web hosts of not providing good service, and when the limits of that service aren't clearly defined, the web host can't show such clients that they're wrong. Web hosts can suspend accounts or remove files for any reason that they choose, and clients will be without recourse.

However, most of the time, SLA are not effectively made used of due to the terms and conditions in order for the SLA to be effective are created to shield the provider from liabilities. Hence, an SLA may not be a good agreement most of the time.

See also

Web Hosting Wiki article text shared under a Creative Commons License.

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