Google Promises Minimal Downtime With Google Apps Cloud SLA Tweaks

Google on Friday said that planned downtime, usually reserved for maintenance outages, will count against the 99.9 percent SLA for its Google Apps for Business and Google Apps for Education cloud computing offerings. Before Friday's changes to the cloud SLA, planned outages were exempt. The new SLA means Google Apps users will receive SLA credits for any downtime whether it's planned or not.

"Unlike most providers, we don't plan for our users to be down, even when we're upgrading our services or maintaining our systems. For that reason, we're removing the SLA clause that allows for scheduled downtime," Google Enterprise Product Management Director Matthew Glotzbach wrote in a blog post highlighting changes to Google Apps' SLA. "Going forward, all downtime will be counted and applied towards the customer's SLA. We are the first major cloud provider to eliminate maintenance windows from their service level agreement."

Google's move toward more accountability in the cloud computing space comes as two other cloud computing players, Rackspace and Amazon, duke it out over their cloud support options. At the same time, Google continues to battle with chief cloud rival Microsoft for cloud computing dominance in the enterprise, education and state, local and federal government,

According to Google, the company will still adhere to its 99.9 percent uptime SLA, but will also keep track of any intermittent downtime. In the past, a period of less than 10 minutes of downtime was not included. No, Google will count downtime that lasts seconds.

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"We believe any instance that causes our users to experience downtime should be avoided -- period," Glotzbach wrote.

Glotzbach said that Gmail was up and running for 99.984 percent of the time for business and consumers in 2010. That translates to about seven minutes per month over the course of the year, compiling delays of a few seconds each. Google apologized to users who suffered longer disruptions and said Google Apps for Business customers received compensation when appropriate.

Still, Google said, seven downtime minutes per month isn't too shabby. Google didn't estimate the amount of downtime suffered by other Google Apps services and components, like Calendar, Docs, Sites and Video. All Google Apps components are covered by the same 99.9 uptime guarantee in the Business and Education editions.

"Seven minutes of downtime compares very favorably with on-premises email, which is subject to much higher rates of interruption that hurt employee productivity," Google said, adding that a recent Radicati Group study found that on-premise e-mail averaged 3.8 downtime hours per month. Based on Radicati's metrics, Google said that Gmail is 32 times more reliable than the average e-mail system and 46 times more available than Microsoft Exchange.

Google said its ultimate goal with the new SLA structure for Google Apps and the cloud is to make e-mail as reliable as a landline telephone's dial tone.

"E-mail is much more complex than your home phone, so making it as reliable as the dial tone is no mean feat," Glotzbach. "Despite our best efforts, we will have outages in the future. But we're proud of our track record so far and we're working hard to make it even better. Every time you reach for your phone you expect it to work. And we believe that is a worthwhile benchmark."