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What’s up with web hosting ‘Uptime Guarantees’…

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We all want our websites to be up 100% of the time — that’s obvious. After all, if our sites go down we’ll likely lose actual customers, potential customers and possibly even some of the reputation we’ve worked so hard to achieve — not to mention the prospect of any visitors who may have helped spread the word on social networks etc had they been able to actually reach our content! How do you gauge the loss? Well, it’s impossible to really put a number on it: after all, how do you put a value on lost potential? Whichever way you choose to look at it though, uptime should be regarded as a big deal for any online enterprise!

But is uptime something you keep track of? Or are you one of the people who simply assumes your hosting company is keeping an eye on your site’s uptime for you? Maybe you’re thinking they’ll have systems in place to contact you the moment something goes wrong? After all, when you signed up for hosting, wasn’t one of the attractions of the company you chose their ‘uptime guarantee’? Read on…

Having run into a bit of downtime on one of my sites this last few weeks, I’ve recently had cause to do a little research into different web hosting companies’ “uptime guarantees” …and much of what I’ve found has shaken my faith in such promises quite considerably!

A few surprising findings:

Starting with the least surprising of my finding first, here goes:

Uptime guarantees vary enormously!

While some web hosting companies offer uptime guarantees of 100%, others don’t offer any kind of uptime guarantee whatsoever! Now, if I’d read that a few weeks ago I’d have immediately thought something like: “Yeah, maybe, but that’s only the less-reputable ones right?”. Well, no… actually some top web hosting companies offer no such guarantees on some of their services at all!

Some companies offer, even boast, uptime guarantees of just 99.9%…

At first glance, 99.9% uptime sounds quite good right?! After all, that’s almost 100%! However, doing a little math, this equates to an uptime guarantee of 364.64 days a year — or in other words: a 99.9% uptime guarantee leaves room for a whopping 8.64 hours of downtime per year; meaning that web hosting companies offering this level of service are basically giving themselves a margin of error of about 40 minutes a month… That ‘99.9% uptime guarantee’ isn’t sounding quite so good now is it? That said, at the end of the day, the guaranteed level of service doesn’t really matter all that much: instead, what really counts is the actual uptime you’re really getting: a service with a guarantee of 99% (or even no guarantee at all) but an actual uptime of 100% is by far and away preferable to a service that guarantees 100% uptime but then actually only achieves an uptime of say 99%!

Some uptime guarantees aren’t worth all that much!

When someone says they guarantee something, a common-sense reaction is to ask what happens if things don’t turn out as promised? When it comes to web hosting companies, it seems that many don’t back up their guarantee with very much… for example: a common guarantee is should the level of service be found to fall below the guaranteed uptime in a particular month, you’ll be entitled to request a maximum discount on your next monthly payment of 5% of the following monthly fee (imagine paying $5 a month and one month finding you’ve had an uptime of just 90% — you’d then be entitled to a 25 cent discount on your next bill). Hardly much of an incentive for the hosting company to ensure they meet their ‘guaranteed’ level of service. Web hosting guarantees vary, of course, with some considerably more appealing than others — check yours!

Downtime due to planned server maintenance doesn’t usually count as ‘downtime’…

In the minds of many web hosting companies, it seems there’s two different types of downtime: ‘general downtime’ and ‘planned downtime’. If your hosting company notifies you in advance of some impending/planned downtime, then this is usually taken out of the guaranteed-level-of-service equation. Luckily, however, this kind of downtime is very rare! Rare enough to include it in the guarantee? You’d think so wouldn’t you?

Most web hosting companies will not actually make any effort to contact you when your site goes down!

It seems that many web hosting companies will simply not alert you when your site goes down at all (indeed some will not even know it themselves — see below). In similar fashion, many will not openly come forward to offer any form of compensation (guaranteed or not) should they fail to meet their guaranteed level of service (indeed, as already mentioned, some won’t even realize there’s anything even amiss – see below) — instead, to receive the promised compensation, you’ll often have to be the one to initiate the conversation by telling them that your site is (or has recently been) down!

Even when asked directly, few web hosting companies will tell you your site’s overall level of uptime!

Do you know your site’s level of uptime? Does your host give you any access to such data? If up until now you’ve assumed your web host has such data available, now’s the time to check: ask your web host and see what they say!

And perhaps most surprisingly: many web hosting companies simply don’t implement any kind of uptime monitoring at all!

If a web host doesn’t guarantee a certain level of uptime, then you can kind of understand that they aren’t actually concerned with monitoring it. But what about those companies that boast a certain level of guaranteed uptime? Shouldn’t they be monitoring it? After all, if they have no means of even knowing a site’s uptime, then how can they be sure they’re meeting their guaranteed level of service? The short answer is, surprisingly: many can’t! …with more than a few hosting companies seemingly really only using the idea of ‘guaranteeing’ a certain level of uptime as a means of impressing new customers and then never making any actual effort to ensure said level of uptime is ever met!

…But is any of this really all that bad?

A web host’s job is, first and foremost, to host your website — that’s what you’re really paying them for! Does that include monitoring its uptime? Well, I guess it all depends on how you look at it: some people will likely think that web hosts should indeed be monitoring their clients’ uptimes (especially those that guarantee a certain level of service) whilst others will see that many web hosting companies make no such uptime-monitoring-promises to their customers at all (i.e. they’re perfectly inline with the services they offer and to which their clients sign/signed up for).

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So should you be alarmed if you find out that your web host doesn’t alert you if/when your site goes down? Or if they seem to offer such a low amount of compensation should things go wrong it makes their guarantee seem somewhat meaningless? Or if they guarantee a certain level of uptime but don’t then go on to actually monitor it? Well, no: probably not… In an ideal world, perhaps hosts would all do these things, but in reality: even some of the most highly-respected industry-leading hosts don’t seem to bother! Morals and marketing ploys aside, the most important thing in my mind isn’t who monitors your uptime, it’s that your uptime gets monitored by someone somewhere! Otherwise, with nobody monitoring it, it’s entirely feasible, for example, that your site could be going down on a regular basis due to no fault of your own* with you never even being made aware of it at all!

The solution: regardless of whether or not your web host monitors your uptime, monitor it yourself using a tool/service like Jetpack’s ‘Monitor’ Module, UpTime Robot and/or Pingdom (who also have a handy free mobile app) — (note: it never hurts to play it safe by using more than one uptime-monitoring tools/services in conjunction to help ensure against false positives) and if you see your hosting company under-performing: address the issue with them as soon as possible. After which, if you’re still seeing poor levels of reliability, consider moving to either a better level of service (from a shared to a VPS server for example) or a completely new host altogether. After all, uptime should be a crucial consideration for any serious online endeavor, and something that someone, somewhere, really should be keeping tabs on!

*if you’re using a shared hosting service, you could well be experiencing downtime as a result of some other websites on the same server using up too many of its resources for example!

What do you think: Do uptime guarantees matter? Should hosting companies that guarantee a certain level of uptime be monitoring whether or not said level is actually being met? Is measuring your site’s uptime your responsibility or your web host’s?

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By Brin Wilson

Founder of WinningWP - passionate about all things WordPress! Active on both Twitter and Google+ (preferred).
Comments (policy)
  • Niels

    If you are using uptime robot you might want to see the results directly from your website/blog no? There are quite some plugins available for this, just check them out from the WordPress website. I use Uptime Robot Plugin for WordPress.

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