The cost of data center downtime is on the rise. A recent Ponemon Institute study of data centers based in the United States found that unplanned downtime costs approximately $7,900 per minute, a 41 percent increase from the 2010 survey.

But what if your organization relies heavily on the cloud? It’s your cloud service provider’s job to worry about your IT infrastructure, and the service level agreement (SLA) guarantees 5 9s uptime. That means you only have to worry about a small fraction of a percent of downtime, right?

Not exactly.

While cloud SLAs typically include some type of “uptime guarantee,” some downtime is virtually inevitable.After all, 99.95 percent uptime allows for more than four hours of downtime each year, and all the major cloud providers have had incidents of unplanned downtime. The cloud SLA simply spells out how the cloud service provider will compensate you for downtime, which typically involves some kind of credit on your monthly bill.

However, keeping your data center onsite doesn’t make you immune to outages. On the contrary, onsite IT resources are typically more likely to experience downtime than cloud services. The Ponemon study found that 91 percent of data centers had experienced an unplanned outage in the previous 24 months, with an average incident length of 86 minutes.

Cloud computing providers minimize downtime through enterprise-class technology, sophisticated management tools and a large IT staff. A fault-tolerant environment with redundancy and failover capabilities ensures high availability, while around-the-clock monitoring of your cloud services reduces the impact of an outage.

Still, it is important to set the right expectation and understand that you are trading one set of risks for another. Rather than promising zero downtime, cloud SLAs help to ensure clarity and transparency.

The Cloud Standards Customer Council offers the “Practical Guide to Service Level Agreements” which is designed to help organizations develop cloud SLAs that satisfy their business needs. Anyone considering cloud services should read this document.

A cloud SLA should be developed cooperatively and document expectations, define responsibilities, eliminate confusion and protect your interests. It should include very specific parameters and protocols for availability, performance levels, security, storage and backup, troubleshooting, updating of cloud services, managing disputes and how cloud services can be seamlessly shifted to a new provider. It can also include guidelines for maintaining regulatory compliance, particularly in the medical, financial and retail industries.

ACS has partnered with leading cloud providers to deliver some of the most robust cloud services available on the market today, backed by ACS’ local engineering resources. Let us help you to develop a customized cloud strategy with SLAs that meet your specific business requirements.