If you’re a website owner, you want your website to be accessible to visitors virtually all the time. Whether your site visitors are prospective customers or just fans of your blog content, their experience with your website matters. Your personal or professional brand reputation is on the line.
Web hosting providers will often promise an uptime rate guarantee as part of their terms of service. Today, we’ll dissect the fine print of that promise, leaving you with a better understanding of what to expect from a web hosting provider.
First, What Is Uptime?
Uptime is the percentage of time a service, usually web hosting or another internet service, is available. For example, if your website has an uptime rate of 99%, it should be available for users 99% of the time. The other 1% would account for scheduled maintenance windows or brief outages caused by DDoS attacks, power failures, or other unpredictable events.
A service provider will often give an uptime rate guarantee as part of their service-level agreement (SLA). Uptime guarantees are important because they let you know how reliable a web host’s services are—and whether you can expect your website to be accessible to visitors most of the time. If a host can’t keep its servers up and running consistently, it will lose customers and brand credibility, just as you (the site owner) would.
The best way to find out what kind of uptime guarantee a hosting company offers is to ask the provider directly—before signing up for any service, preferably via live chat or email, so you have a conversation record. If the web host doesn’t offer any compensation for downtime, it might be best to look elsewhere for your hosting needs.
100% Uptime Guarantee Is Extremely Rare
It may seem counterintuitive, but 100% uptime is quite challenging to achieve in practice—despite what some providers claim on their websites. And 100% is not the same as 99.999%. When it comes to uptime rates, don’t round up or down—that one-hundredth of a percent matters.
Even with the best intentions and equipment, life happens. Power outages occur; hard drives crash; software needs to update, or an update causes conflicts. Human error will also always be inevitable. While there are steps that data center operators and server administrators can take to minimize downtime as much as possible, complete prevention is impractical, to say the least.
On the extreme end of the reliability spectrum, select providers offer a 99.999% network uptime guarantee, colloquially known in the hosting world as five nines availability. Service providers with at least five nines are highly available (HA).
On average, a five-nines guarantee gives providers slightly more than five minutes of downtime annually. While this may seem overkill (and probably is for most users), such an extreme uptime rate is essential for businesses that rely heavily on their website’s availability.
Take Amazon or Target as extreme examples. A single minute of downtime per month could translate into millions of dollars in lost revenue, plus a substantial hit in brand credibility. Maybe your website doesn’t stand to lose millions of dollars due to server outages, but revenue is revenue. And money left on the table is never a good outcome.
What’s a Good Uptime Guarantee, Then?
Since we’ve established that downtime is inevitable in the hosting world, a good uptime rate guarantee offers you compensation if your site goes down unexpectedly.
For example, many web hosts offer 99.9% uptime rate guarantees. If your site experiences more than 0.1% downtime in a given month, you can get a refund or account credits for the time your website was inaccessible.
Most business owners consider this SLA an acceptable level of risk—especially since the 99.9% uptime expectation still leaves plenty of room for scheduled maintenance windows and other brief outages beyond the hosting provider’s control, such as DDoS attacks and other third-party threats.
Some examples of competitive uptime rate guarantees include:
- Liquid Web’s SLAs promise a 100% network uptime. However, this does not cover scheduled maintenance time, necessary hardware or software maintenance, or situations beyond the provider’s control, such as malicious attacks or legal actions.
- Hostwinds’s SLAs promise 99.9999%, but credits will not be issued in response to interruptions caused by scheduled maintenance, intervention by an ISP or third party, or actions of the account owner.
- Intermedia’s white paper discusses the engineering decisions behind promising customers a 99.999% uptime rate.
- DigitalOcean’s website states the company offers a 99.99% uptime guarantee for Droplets and block storage.
However, 99.9% uptime is considered the industry standard and will satisfy most customer needs. For a comprehensive list of popular hosts and their current uptime rate guarantees, consult this HostingAdvice article.
You can calculate the estimated downtime allowances for each SLA using uptime.is. If a hosting provider already covers your project, keep an eye on your site’s availability using a monitoring tool such as Pingdom or UptimeRobot.
Read the Fine Print on Uptime Rates
When comparing uptime guarantees from different web hosts, it’s essential to read the fine print. Some companies will make lofty claims about their uptime rates without actually guaranteeing anything—or the service provider may bury the details of their guarantee in the terms of service (TOS), where you’re unlikely to see them.
Others may offer a money-back guarantee that only applies if your site is down for an extended period, such as 24 hours or more. This isn’t really useful since most downtime events are resolved long before that point—and even if they aren’t, you can usually switch to another host rather than wait around for a refund.
Even if a web host offers an uptime guarantee, it can be challenging to get them actually to honor it. After all, they have no way of knowing whether your site is down unless you tell them—and by the time you do, the issue may have already been resolved.
Your Page’s Uptime Matters
When choosing a host, look for one that offers a realistic and reasonable uptime guarantee. While it might be tempting to choose one that offers a 100% or five nines guarantee, they’re usually expensive and come with caveats. Choose a provider that fits your budget and delivers its promises to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth.
That’s why you should use an uptime monitoring service. These tools regularly check your website (usually at set intervals) to see if it’s accessible, and they notify you immediately if they detect any issues. This allows you to take action quickly if your site goes down, giving you a much better chance of getting compensated for downtime under your host’s guarantee.