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What is an SLA? Best Practices for Service Level Agreements

By: Blair Felter on June 28, 2019

Selecting a data center partner can be a stressful and confusing experience for many companies. From massive hyperscale facilities and enterprise-level data campuses, to smaller edge data centers, there are several types of data centers to choose from and not all of them are created equally. But no matter what services and features your business requires from a colocation provider, there is one thing that all data centers have in common that should be at the forefront of every decision: The service level agreement (SLA).

What is an SLA?

A service level agreement is a legal document that outlines the specific terms of the services a data center provides. It outlines what responsibilities the facility has to its customers and what rights are accorded to them. Organizations should review SLAs very carefully to make sure they’re getting the level of service they’re expecting.

The biggest factor to consider is the level of system downtime you can expect to experience. Data centers should have the right backup strategies and power redundancies in place to ensure high levels of server uptime. If a provider doesn’t offer verifiable SLA metrics to demonstrate that they can maintain consistent server uptime, it could be a sign that they suffer frequent system downtime. When a facility fails to hold up its end of the agreement, the service level agreement stipulates how the customer should be compensated to make up for any inconvenience caused or costs incurred. Unfortunately, there are many cases in which this remuneration is too little, too late, making it more important than ever for customers to ensure a provider is adhering to key service level agreement best practices.

Service Level Agreement Best Practices

Uptime Reliability

When it comes to a data center SLA metrics, nothing is more important than uptime reliability. A server outage has the potential to cause tremendous damage to an organization’s business operations due to lost revenue, diminished productivity, and missed opportunities. Even setting aside the immediate consequences of system downtime, the long-term brand damage can be quite significant. In today’s fast-paced economy, businesses simply can’t afford to lose customers because of a reputation for unreliable or slow service.

Uptime reliability is measured as a percentage that indicates how much time a server is up and running. Understanding the difference between 99.9% server uptime and 99.999% server uptime is critically important when evaluating a data center facility. Each additional “9” translates to less downtime and more consistent services. While tenths, hundredths, and thousandths of a percentage point may seem insignificant, they carry a very real financial cost. Fortunately, an easy to use SLA uptime calculator can help you find out exactly how much an existing or prospective system downtime could wind up costing your business.

Remote Hands

Given the high costs of system downtime, today’s leading data centers go to great lengths to deliver the server uptime they’ve guaranteed to customers in their service level agreement. Adhering to server level agreement best practices requires more than just providing excellent infrastructure—it needs a team of quality IT personnel at the ready to ensure that any unexpected problems are dealt with before they can compromise network services.

Having a remote hands team on call 24x7x365 may have been seen as a luxury in the past, but for today’s companies, it’s almost a necessity. Whether an organization relies on cloud services or colocates their own IT infrastructure in a data center facility, the financial stakes are simply too high to operate without an experienced team of IT professionals that can troubleshoot existing problems and react to threats before they can cause system downtime.

A good SLA that follows service level agreement best practices should clearly indicate the level of hands-on service a facility intends to provide to its customers. Rapid response technical support is key to delivering high levels of server uptime, so it’s important to know if a facility employs its own remote hands team or if it contracts those services out to a third-party provider.


Guaranteeing delivery of high-level server uptime is one thing; providing customers the ability to see how well that promise is being kept is quite another. Transparency should be built into every SLA, empowering customers to monitor network traffic, power fluctuations, cooling requirements, and overall performance of their IT infrastructure. This is especially important for colocation customers that are entrusting a facility with their existing capital investments, but even organizations deploying a purely cloud-based solution have a right to know the status of their systems at all times.

A high-visibility service level agreement makes it very clear how a facility delivers its promised uptime reliability. Since an SLA typically includes remuneration criteria that compensate customers for service downtime, companies need some way of knowing how well the data center is performing at any given time. With business intelligence platforms and performance analytics at their disposal, they can ensure that facilities are indeed living up to the terms of their service level agreements. Providing this high-level of visibility pushes data centers to develop new and innovative solutions that help them to keep their systems secure and reliable.

Understanding the terms and obligations of a data center’s SLA is critical for companies seeking to colocate their IT assets or migrate their infrastructure to a cloud-based environment. Far more than a contract, the SLA should go to great lengths to not only reassure customers that a facility will deliver the promised server uptime, but also demonstrate just how they will do so. When companies know they can depend on their network to stay up and running, they can focus their attention on developing new ways to drive business success instead of constantly worrying about when their next outage will occur.

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