Choose an internet service provider for your business

ISP service level agreements

Guide

In providing services to their customers, many internet service providers (ISPs) introduce service level agreements against their offerings.

Known as ISP SLAs, these agreements set out:

  • the terms and conditions of the ISP's service
  • their commitments regarding the quality and availability of service
  • their responsibilities as agreed with the service user

Since an SLA ultimately defines what service you will receive, it is worth scrutinising and negotiating the terms before agreeing a deal with your ISP.

What to include in a service level agreement with an ISP?

The most important elements to include in an SLA with your ISP are the following:

1. Uptime
Uptime is the percentage of time the ISP's service is running properly. Establish what uptime figure the ISP claims for its services. Will it guarantee this uptime and discount your account if it fails? Consider the level of availability you need against what you can afford. Maximum availability often comes at a greater cost, so make sure you don't pay excessive fees for services that you don't need.

2. Response times in case of failure
Outages will inevitably occur, so find out what the ISP's policy is if their network goes down. Will the ISP inform you, or will you find out as your internet connection fails? Is there a help desk you can reach? How long you can afford to have your internet connection interrupted or your website down? It's important to put down in writing any details regarding the ISP's uptime and failure response commitments so that you can hold them to account.

3. Redundancy
Redundancy refers to the number of connections that an ISP has to the internet. High redundancy means more connections, which means if part of its system fails, the ISP will simply be able to switch over without affecting your connection.

4. Hardware and back-up
The actual web server that ISPs use to provide the hosting services should, ideally, be specialised hardware with built-in fail-safe features. Check the reliability of the service by asking:

  • if there are backup servers in case the server hosting your site fails
  • what system management procedures they use to backup your system data
  • what contingency plans are in place in case the ISP's web server location is affected by fire, flood or other disasters
  • what security measures are in place - such as firewalls and anti-virus programs - to prevent the ISP's services being compromised by a security attack from a hacker or fraudster

It is worth asking business contacts, or your IT adviser, for recommendations. You can also compare service providers.

You should check any SLA carefully to ensure it meets your requirements and make sure you understand exactly what your supplier is promising. See more on IT supplier contracts and service level agreements.