6 Important Things You Probably Missed in Your Managed Hosting SLA

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Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Managed hosting SLAs can contain a lot of small print that can catch you out if you're not careful. Here are a few things to look for.

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6 Important Things You Probably Missed in Your Managed Hosting SLA
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Opting for a managing hosting approach to your servers can offer many benefits. Being able to turn to trusted providers to handle issues such as day-to-day maintenance, patching and upgrades can take a lot of pressure off hardworking internal IT teams, as well as being a highly cost-effective solution when scaling up a business.

But it's important you examine all aspects of these services carefully to avoid any nasty surprises. While some of the key questions you should ask hosting providers are obvious, such as their security measures or evidence they comply with essential industry regulations, other issues may not occur to you until there's a problem.

However, by taking a close look at your service level agreement (SLA), you should be able to avoid any major issues. This documentation should spell out clearly the responsibilities of your provider and what you can expect from them.

Regardless of exactly what services you're getting from your managed service provider (MSP), whether it's web hosting or a full Infrastructure-as-a-Service solution, it's vital you don't overlook any important details that are hidden away deep in the SLA - and if you're not satisfied with the level of detail on offer in the terms, it's essential you bring them up with the provider before signing a contract.

With this in mind, here are a few areas to look at particularly closely within your SLA.

1. Availability guarantees

All managed service providers should spell out what customer expectations for uptime should be, but it's vital you're aware of what this translates to in real terms, and what the consequences for failure will be. Also, don't get caught up in headline promises that may not tell the full story. For instance, 99.999% uptime translates to around five minutes of downtime a year, which could still be costly if it happens in a peak period.

You may find that frequent, short periods of downtime don't breach part of the SLA, but can still cause significant disruption to some services, especially those that demand always-on, real-time connectivity. However, if they aren't technically breaking their SLA with some interruptions, there may be nothing you can do about it.

2. Understand their remedies

In the case of missed uptime targets or other service disruptions, you should be aware of what compensation you can expect from your provider. Will they issue a refund for any downtime, or - more likely - can you expect to see a reduction in your next payment of a certain percentage. Will this be applied automatically or will you have to request it?

However, you shouldn't become too focused on issues such as penalties. By this point, the damage will be done, and monetary compensation may not make up for lost business or reputation. Instead, ask what your provider is doing to ensure accountability upfront, rather than making amends.

3. Are they specific about their responsibilities?

Look carefully at the language contained in the SLA to see if it's actually promising what you expect. Many providers may use vague terms by default that can give them more leeway in the event of a dispute. Therefore, instead of terms such as "guaranteed uptime" that aren't actually defined, make sure there are specifics in place. This should include clear definitions of key terms such as uptime, as well as figures for maximum response times, incident response procedures and acknowledgments of policies and legal responsibilities.

4. What are their reporting promises?

Another area you need clarity in is the reporting tools used by your supplier and the information they provide. For starters, you need an MSP to present a clear schedule about when you can expect reports to be delivered, as well as what this will contain and how they relate to key performance indicators.

Additionally, you should ask your provider about what will be required for you to create your own reports, either internally or through the use of independent solutions. This may require third-party access to specific information your vendor doesn’t provide for in their SLA, so you should make a list of exactly what data you need and look for ways you can obtain it if your vendor doesn't make it available.

5. Can it be revised?

SLAs that offer no flexibility or scope for revisions in the face of a changing landscape could leave you struggling to keep up. For instance, the pandemic led to many organizations looking to adjust SLA requirements or targets due to shifts in working patterns - but if the contract doesn't allow for this, things can quickly become challenging for both the vendor and the customer.

6. Know the escape clauses

It's probably not something that's on your mind at the start of a relationship with a new hosting partner, but it's vital to have a clear exit strategy in place in case your needs change or things don't work out. If you don't pay attention to the details, you may find leaving a provider is a highly complex process, leading to the risk of vendor lock-in.

To avoid this, ensure you have clear answers on when you can end a contract, what their policies are on issues such as data retention, and how you can go about extracting your resources from their servers. It's also important to be aware of any hidden costs such as cancellation fees that are buried away in the depths of the SLA.

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