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How much is 99.999% uptime actually worth?

Many service providers claim 99.999% uptime, but what does this actually mean?

Businesses often pride themselves on the level of service they provide, with the gold standard service level agreement being an uptime of 99.999 percent.

In essence, this standard means service providers guarantee a certain level of reliability and minimal downtime. In fact, a 99.999 percent uptime certification means that the service or application will only be down for approximately five minutes and 15 seconds every year.

While this may seem like great news for businesses and customers alike, this gold standard level of service is not without its drawbacks.

Primarily, this level of uptime comes at a cost. Usually the price of a service will increase exponentially with each additional “nine” of uptime, so IT leaders need to ask themselves whether such a high level of availability is worth it.

To put this into context, a 99.9 per cent uptime guarantee would equate to more than eight hours of downtime each year. This may not seem like much, particularly given that the entirety of these eight hours may not fall into working hours, but the disruption caused by the downtime depends on each particular business and the services that it needs.

Most companies, for example, would not require 99.999 percent availability on their internet service because of the logistic and financial difficulties of such a feat. Firms would need to pay for additional connections that would usually remain redundant, and a multi-WAN device to enable the transition to occur. Unless your business simply cannot afford to be disconnected, the financial outlay of high availability may not be justifiable.

The fact that even technology giants like Google cannot always guarantee 99.999 percent availability highlights the difficulty involved. In 2013, Gmail was available 99.978 per cent of the time, which for most businesses and individuals represents a more-than-adequate service.

SMEs, in particular, need to carefully assess whether they need a “five nines” level of uptime, at a stage of their development where finances are tight and could be directed more effectively. This is particularly true when you consider the difference between unexpected and expected downtime.

If a service provider is guaranteeing a 99.9 percent standard, for example, but a set amount of the expected downtime will come from scheduled maintenance and upgrades, this will limit the disruption caused to a business.

While SMEs are pushing an increasing amount of their finances into technology, it is important to remember to budget reliably. IT leaders need to consider that achieving high reliability requires more servers, whether on-site or in the cloud, additional software components and added complexity. These extra costs need to be weighed against the risk of potential downtime and lost business to assess what service agreement is right for your particular needs.

Choosing whether the “five nines” service agreement is viable for your company is an important decision for businesses.

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