Uptime, Downtime, Run Around Time – How Web Hosts Twist The Truth (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series, we took a look at misleading claims by some web hosts with regards to the green movement. In today’s post, we’ll take a lot at the 100% uptime guarantee that many hosts proudly proclaim on their websites.

It’s not all it’s cracked up to be… not even close in many cases.

Downtime happens

If you have a website on the internet, at one time or another, it will suffer some downtime. Whether it’s a failed hard drive, a networking issue, or power issue, it will happen. And this isn’t limited to small websites.

Last year Google’s GMail service was down for two hours. This affected all the free accounts, plus their 1.75 million paying business customers.

American Eagle, a major clothing store retailer, saw it’s ecommerce site down for 4 days last month.

Even Rackspace, one of the industry’s best managed server providers, has experienced multi-hour outages in the past 2 years.

The 100% uptime guarantee

In the face of all this downtime, many web hosts boast a 100% uptime guarantee. It sounds wonderful! Choose this host, and your website will be up 100% of the time. Right?

Well, not exactly. The guarantee is: If they fail to meet that guarantee, they will compensate you. Ah, great! I get my money back?

Well, maybe some of it. And only under certain conditions. That doesn’t sound like much of a guarantee.

(hence the “twist” in this post’s title)

Loopholes and fine print

If you dig into the fine print of these uptime guarantees (and I did), you’ll find some surprising statements and qualifications:

  • One host who offers a 100% uptime guarantee has fine print that says:
    Network uptime, not server uptime…downtime may range into days…
  • Another 100% guarantee has this fine print:
    excluding software or hardware malfunctions, network slowdowns, or any event not under our direct control

Huh? So with the first host, the server your account is on could be down for days, but it’s still 100% uptime???

With the second host, if they exclude hardware and software failures, what else is there? Gross incompetence? If your site takes 45 minutes to load, that is still considered 100% uptime?

The complicated run-around

So you’re with a host offering a 100% uptime guarantee. And your site experiences downtime. How do you request your compensation?

Some hosts make you take herculean efforts to qualify for this guarantee…

  • One host’s policies state: The request for downtime compensation must be submitted within seven days, the email must list the exact start and end time of the downtime, must include three separate traceroute screenshots during this downtime, and the request must be submitted to a specific email address.
    Failure to comply means the request is discarded.
  • Another hosts states the request must be received within 3 days of the downtime occurring.

You’re not really being fully compensated

So let’s say your website brings in $100/day in income. And your site suffers 1-2 days of downtime. You lost $200 in income.

Unfortunately, no web host will provide you with compensation that matches your actual loss. That would be unsustainable for any hosting provider.

If you’re with a host that offers a 100% uptime guarantee, maybe you think you’ll get your monthly hosting service refunded. Maybe, but you better read the fine print…

Many guarantees cap the compensation at very low levels:

  • One host says compensation is a maximum of 25% of the monthly hosting charge (after a full day of downtime). That’s $2 if you’re paying $8/month in hosting.
  • Another host states that the maximum compensation is 10% of the monthly hosting fee, the customer must meet all requirements, and the outage must be over 4 hours long, with 1% refunded per hour over 4 hours up to 10%.
    Congrats! Your site was down 2 days and your host gave you 80 cents! (don’t spend it all in one place)

Sarcastic?… yes.
Realistic?… Unfortunately, yes again.

Not all hosts operate this underhandedly

Don’t let a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch. Some guarantees are actually quite fair, protecting both the client and the host. And other hosts may not have a formal uptime guarantee, but really take care of their clients when sustained downtime occurs.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Read the fine print if there is an uptime guarantee
    Make sure you fully understand what’s required in order for the guarantee to be valid. Don’t just assume because there is a guarantee, your web host will always be up, or they’ll refund your entire monthly fee.
  • Ask questions about uptime before signing up
    Whether the hosts has a guarantee or not, ask about what happens if there is downtime, how is it handled, are credits offered, what are the procedures, etc…
  • Not having a guarantee is not a bad thing (in fact, it’s often a good thing)
    Many of the most reputable hosts do not have a formal uptime guarantee (us included). Why? There are many reasons (too many loopholes, aren’t commensurate with actual losses, and really anger customers when they do not understand the limits), but what’s more important is that your host has procedures in place to keep customers informed when problems arise. Because problems WILL happen. Make sure your host has a good track record with uptime in the past, and is the right type of host for your business (paying $6/month when your website brings in $60,000/month is not smart).

Many uptime guarantees are not worth the pixels they’re displayed on. Instead of looking for a host with the perfect uptime guarantee, look for a host that offers the services you need to succeed, has a proven track record of stability over the long haul, and demonstrates clear, no-nonsense communication with their clients that makes dealing with downtime manageable and understandable.

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