Google weasels out of uptime promise? Not so fast

Small Google Apps outages can accumulate without Google paying a penalty, Pingdom concludes. But service level agreements don't tell the whole story.

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Correction, 4:05 p.m. PST: The name of the senior product manager for Google Apps was misspelled. It is Rajen Sheth. Also, Pingdom had an incorrect number for total downtime in its "more likely" scenario. It is 55 minutes.

Google's SLA loophole?
Pingdom argues Google can get away with more outages because smaller ones fall between the service level agreement gaps. Pingdom

Pingdom, a company that monitors Web site availability, has concluded that Google gives itself a lot of wiggle room in its service level agreement for its Google Apps service.

The service level agreement (SLA) gives credit to paying customers if the service falls short of promised availability--99.9 percent measured monthly for Google Apps. Pingdom points out that because Google only counts downtime periods that last at least 10 minutes, the company could get away with intermittent problems that are shorter.

"What if Google Apps was down for 9 minutes, up for 1 minute, down 9 minutes, etc.? That would mean 54 minutes of downtime each hour, but Google still wouldn't count it because none of the individual downtimes lasted 10 minutes (or) more," according to a blog entry Thursday. In a "more likely" scenario with outages lasting 3, 8, 12, 5, 9, 14, and 4 minutes, the total of 55 minutes of actual downtime would only be counted as 26 minutes for purposes of the SLA.

Google, while concerned about uptime, isn't as concerned about the SLA terms or what it called Pingdom's "hypothetical scenario," though.

"If you look at our SLA and compare to others' in the industry, it's identical," said Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps, pointing as an example to Microsoft's hosted Exchange service. Service providers need to set a threshold somewhere "to distinguish between a real outage and intermittent errors," he said, and Google is trying to be transparent about where it sets its.

That may sound like dodging the question about an accumulation of small outages, but the company does have a point that a blip probably shouldn't count as much as a catastrophe. Realistically, shortening the interval would probably squeeze Google on the other end to lower its 99.9 percent uptime commitment or perhaps raise its $50 per user per year price. There's no free lunch here for customers.

And after all, although SLAs are important, customers will rapidly abandon ship if a service breaks, credit or no credit.

Notably, Google monitors not only each customer account's uptime, but also each user of that account. It also gives credits even if only part of the service goes down while other parts are available, Sheth said. And though only some customers were affected by a significant Gmail outage in August, Google offered SLA credits to all Google Apps customers.

Google has promised a better dashboard to inform customers about outages. "During the times when we've seen outages, the No. 1 thing we need to do is communicate with our customers," Sheth said.