In a work-from-home world, service level agreements for cloud communications take center stage

“Network error: There’s a problem connecting to the application.” 

Other than the dreaded “blue screen of death,” a network error warning is quite possibly a hard-working employee’s most aggravating computer message—especially because it always seems to happen at the absolute worst moment, like some kind of cruel joke. Maybe it’s also because in our fast-paced, always-available world, every moment feels urgent. And if we’re going to make ourselves available at all times, we expect no less from our apps—whether for business or leisure. 

For cloud-based business communications and collaboration solutions, the importance of continuous availability only increases. Because communication is at the heart of any successful organization, communications solutions need to withstand a multitude of obstacles. These include natural disasters, seasonal surges (such as the first day of school or holiday buying), unexpected surges (such as what we’ve experienced with COVID-19), or company-specific issues (such as hosting a large all-hands session online). In addition to these variables, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) providers also need to remain available across many different devices (laptop, mobile, or tablet) and connectivity options (WiFi, 3G/4G/5G, or a switch from one to the other) that customers might use to connect.

What does “Five 9s” mean (also known as “Five Nines”)?

The availability of a cloud solution is usually expressed as a percentage of the amount of time that solution is up and running (known as uptime) in a given year. Most enterprise communications solution providers offer Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that commit to a certain minimum percentage of uptime in a given period (or conversely maximum downtime). 

In the figure below, you can see how availability percentages equate to downtime over the course of days, weeks, months, and years. In a perfect world, a cloud solution would be available 100% of the time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but the good news is that when it comes to uptime, we’re not far off. For example, some companies offer 99.999% availability (also known as “Five 9s”), which translates to 5.26 minutes of downtime for that app per year. Of course, not every company can guarantee that level of uptime, and lower guarantees can translate to possibly significant downtime. For example, 95% availability—which sounds like a high number—actually equates to up to 18 days of downtime annually.

Service Level Agreements guarantee the availability of cloud applications. Lower guarantees can lead to more downtime.

Increased downtime for cloud communications apps can actually have potentially devastating consequences, particularly in certain industries. For example:

  • Healthcare: Patients can’t reach doctors for critical information
  • Education: Teachers can’t teach remotely
  • Public sector: Citizens can’t reach critical government services
  • Sales: Sales teams don’t have access to the tools to close deals
  • Support: Customer requests go unanswered and customer satisfaction suffers

How cloud providers ensure high availability

There are some critical elements that all highly available Software as a Service (SaaS) companies need to get right, starting with building a scalable, redundant, and secure infrastructure. Here are a few of the hallmarks of highly available solutions: – Read more

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