Before we look at website server uptime it is worth reminding ourselves how important this is to the success of any online business. The simple fact is, if your website is down then not only will it lose sales but potential new customers will look elsewhere. Plus, those you have managed to build up over the years will lose confidence. We all know that competition in the world of e-commerce is tough and customers are unforgiving. Therefore, the most important element of your online business is the reliability of your host server as well as the software which runs your website.
We will now take a look at the various aspects of website uptime, how they are defined, calculated and what to look out for. When you see figures of 99% guaranteed uptime this will likely give you a degree of confidence but what exactly does it mean and what are the potential financial ramifications.
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Website Server Uptime Definition
Before we look at the various practices associated with calculating server uptime, how exactly would you define uptime? Would you expect it to focus on: –
- The amount of time your website is online?
- The overall uptime for your website server?
- Website response times?
While many of us will see the 99.9% uptimes from various web hosting companies, when you sit back and think about it, what does it actually mean? In reality it is the only real way to compare and contrast the reliability of web hosting companies assuming that uptime calculations are made using the same variables. At this point it is also worth noting that if your website is on the wrong hosting package then this can have a material impact upon uptime as well as response times.
Different hosting accounts
In theory there are four different types of web hosting package which include:-
- Shared hosting services
- VPS hosting services
- Dedicated server
- Cloud hosting services
In order to get the best uptime it is important to choose the best hosting package and this is something which your hosting company will be able to advise upon. For example there are numerous VPS hosting advantages, compared to basic shared hosting services, such as:-
- It is in effect your own private server on a shared server
- More control over the software packages used
- The ability to add additional layers of security
- Protection from issues with other accounts on the same server
That is not to say that basic shared hosting services do not have a place. This type of package tends to be popular with relatively new websites which may be in the process of being built/launched therefore traffic figures are unknown. It is also worth comparing and contrasting the cost of VPS hosting and traditional shared hosting services against exactly what you require at the time.
Actual Server Uptime Calculations
Let’s assume a 365 day calendar year and 24 hours a day which equates to 8760 hours per annum. So, if your web hosting company had an uptime of 100% then literally you would lose no hours per annum and your site would be live all of the time. So, surely 1% downtime would not make a major difference to your e-commerce income? Well, let us take a look at the actual figures when it comes to uptime guarantees:-
- 9% uptime equates to 8751 hours per year with down time of nine hours
- 5% uptime equates to 8716 hours per year with down time of 44 hours
- 99% uptime equates to 8672 hours per year with downtime of 88 hours
- 98% uptime equates to 8585 hours per year with downtime of 175 hours
While there is often a very small difference between guaranteed uptime figures and 100% uptime, when you calculate this as hours over the year it can have a significant impact on your e-commerce business. For example, a website with:-
- 98% uptime equates to a loss of more than seven days in downtime
- 5% uptime still equates to a loss of nearly 2 days.
If you have a website which averages £500,000 a year in sales this equates to £1370 per day in revenue. A website with 98% uptime, as one example, would equate to lost revenue of nearly £10,000 per annum. So, sometimes the headline figures and the underlying impact on a business can be very different.
Misleading practices of calculating uptime
It is fair to say that not all hosting companies operate the same strategy when it comes to presenting uptime figures. However, if you have an e-commerce business then it is important that you are fully aware of potentially misleading practices that some web hosting companies will use.
Calculating actual downtime
Let’s assume that your web hosting company guarantees 99% uptime this equates to downtime of 88 hours per year or an average or 7.3 hours per month. So, if your website was down for seven hours in one month you would in theory expect some kind of compensation. However, this figure is within the 99% uptime guarantee therefore there will be no financial recompense. Consequently, if your website was down for 10 hours in one month this would be 2.7 hours above and beyond the guarantee. So, rather than receiving compensation for the 10 hours of downtime in one month any compensation would be based upon just 2.7 hours in the month.
You will find that scheduled downtime is not included in the uptime guarantee therefore a fairly complicated task such as changing a server, which could take a weekend, would lead to downtime but no compensation. Many e-commerce entrepreneurs might automatically assume that the 99% uptime guarantee takes into account upgrades and general maintenance but this is not the case. It is also worth noting that many scheduled maintenance times may be extended if there are issues with upgrades/servers and again this is not part of the uptime guarantee. Therefore, a potential loss of revenue as a consequence of scheduled (potentially extended) downtime would not qualify for compensation.
Extended downtime compensation
It is fair to assume that at some point you will encounter extended downtime which is above and beyond the uptime guarantee. The idea that you will be compensated in some shape a form as a consequence of lost downtime may well be a small consolation to an online entrepreneur. However, have you ever stepped back to think how you would be compensated?
The fact is that downtime which is above and beyond the host guarantee will normally trigger a form of compensation. Many people fail to realise that this compensation is based upon the monthly hosting fees as opposed to lost revenue. So, if you have monthly hosting fees of £100 and extended downtime of 10% that month then you would receive £10 in compensation. Hardly groundbreaking if your e-commerce income is £500,000 per annum!
Measuring outage periods
Have you ever thought how outage periods will be measured and who will carry out these measurements? We have seen occasions where web hosting companies will only pay out on extended outages once the customer has reported a downtime. So, let’s assume that your website was down for 10 hours and you failed to notice the outage for two hours, then only eight of the 10 hours will be taken into account when calculating any reimbursement figures. This will seem bizarre to many online entrepreneurs because surely hosting companies have a way to monitor outages? To find out more about website monitoring tools, go to this page.
The Real Way to Calculate Website Server Uptime
Before we look at the most appropriate ways to calculate uptime there is no point in kidding ourselves that it is possible to achieve 100% uptime. There may be short-term outages, power issues, connection problems or other short-term irregularities which will impact server uptime. So, if a company does promise 100% uptime then it is probably worth looking at the small print because it is just not feasible.
Include average maintenance periods
It is clear that uptime guarantees of for example 99% relate to periods of unscheduled downtime. So let us look at two different scenarios:-
Uptime guarantee of 99%
On the surface a 99% guarantee looks a far better choice than a 98% guarantee. However, let us assume for argument’s sake that this particular hosting company has an average 10% downtime each year for maintenance and upgrades. This drags the real uptime guarantee to 89% which is a big difference to the headline 99%.
Uptime guarantee of 98%
Let us look at another hosting company offering a 98% uptime guarantee. It means there is an average downtime of just 5% per annum for maintenance and upgrades. In theory the guaranteed uptime is 93% which is obviously better than the above hosting package with a 99% headline figure.
Take a look at the situation from a distance. Why don’t web hosting companies quote average actual uptime over say a period of three years? This would give a real-time figure of historic uptime. In fact, it would provide the opportunity to break down the various issues and their impact on uptime. At the moment the headline figures are the easiest way to compare and contrast different hosting server guaranteed uptimes. However, you may well need to do further investigation.
For more reliable tips to help you avoid website downtime, read this article on our blog.
Other negative factors that could impact uptime besides servers
There are also various other issues which may impact the uptime of your website apart from server issues. They include:-
There may be an issue with one of your software packages or an e-commerce platform has crashed. To the outside world this would limit the effect of uptime of your website and could have a drastic impact on sales.
The majority of online entrepreneurs will at some point attract the attention of online fraudsters and hackers. They will attempt to infiltrate your website and even inject rogue software. This could in theory bring down your website prior to rectifying the issues. Again, this is genuine downtime. However, it is not necessarily the hosting company’s problem unless they failed to fulfil a guaranteed level of security.
Have you ever deleted a file by mistake? Perhaps you have forgotten an important password which allows you to publish your website? There is no way that user error can, in any shape or form, be part of the uptime guarantee. This also highlights the issue of regular backups and being able to reinstate clean backups as soon as possible.
It’s a fact that domain name providers give domain owners plenty of notice prior to a forthcoming renewal. There are also ways and means of automating the renewal process. In the event that your domain name does expire you will still have 30 days to reclaim the domain. However, at some point if not renewed the domain name will expire. Then, it will be released from your control and made available to the public. This could result in severe downtime!
In reality you will get the best uptime for your host server when you choose the correct type of server for your website. While shared hosting services tend to be the first port of call, many people quickly upgrade to a VPS hosting service or eventually dedicated server/cloud services. You will also hear experts waxing lyrical about VPS hosting advantages; effectively your own server on a shared server, with reduced costs.
So, when choosing a web hosting company it is important to consider the right package for your website, as well as the ability to upgrade in the future, while also being aware of server uptime guarantees. In reality, the web hosting industry is extremely competitive and only the fittest will survive. While the Internet may well be awash with companies which failed to deliver on their promises, customers are not slow in stepping forward to post appropriate reviews and feedback for others to read.