Google's release today of an update to its Service Level Agreement (SLA) is the latest in a series of moves by the search giant designed to assure IT that Google Apps are enterprise-ready. Claiming a first among major cloud computing providers, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) said it has eliminated scheduled maintenance from the SLA.
Typically an SLA agreement that guarantees a certain percentage of uptime (usually more than 99 percent) doesn't include scheduled maintenance. Customers get a credit for any other downtime that fails to meet the SLA.
"Unlike most providers, we don't plan for our users to be down, even when we're upgrading our services or maintaining our systems," Matthew Glotzbach, Google's enterprise product management director, said in a blog post. "For that reason, we're removing the SLA clause that allows for scheduled downtime. 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."
In a further tweak to the SLA, Google said that any intermittent downtime will also be counted. Previously, a period of less than ten minutes was not included. "We believe any instance that causes our users to experience downtime should be avoided -- period," said Glotzbach.
Google said its Gmail service was available 99.984 percent of the time in 2010 for both business and consumer users. That seven-minute average represents the accumulation of small delays of a few seconds, and most people experienced no issues at all, Google said.
"For those few who were disrupted for a longer period of time, we're very sorry, and Google Apps for Business customers received compensation where appropriate," said Glotzbach. "We're particularly pleased with this level of reliability since it was accomplished without any planned downtime while launching 30 new features and adding tens of millions of active users."
The blog post compared Google's seven minutes of monthly downtime average favorably to archrival Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). "The latest research from the Radicati Group suggests Gmail is 32 times more reliable than the average email system, and 46 times more available than Microsoft Exchange," said Glotzbach.
Google and Microsoft have been in a heated battle over enterprise customers in general (a market long-dominated by Microsoft) and government contracts in particular.
Microsoft's senior director of online services, Thomas Rizzo, argued last month in an interview with InternetNews that Google is giving IT an ultimatum to move to the cloud, while Microsoft's offerings are more flexible since the company continues to offer both on premises and online applications.
Google officials readily admit they fully embrace the Web and cloud computing as a way to greatly reduce the complexity of maintaining IT infrastructure on premises.
"Despite our best efforts, we will have outages in the future," said Glotzbach. "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."