A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is kind of like a pinky promise between you and your cloud provider. It spells out the bare minimum you can expect from them—kind of like that one friend who always says they’ll be on time, and yet… Here, the promise is about performance metrics and what happens if they drop the ball (or the service).

Now, the compensation part of an SLA often feels more like a slap on the wrist for the provider rather than a soothing balm for your troubles. It’s like, “Oops, we did it again,” and all you get is a pat on the back instead of a real fixLet’s talk about a key term here: “availability.” This isn’t about your friend who’s never around when you need to move a sofa. In cloud terms, it’s the percentage of time a service should be up and running, connectable from the outside world. If your service can’t greet the internet because the cloud provider is having a bad day, it’s considered “down.”

Consider Amazon Web Services (AWS), promising a shiny 99.5% SLA on their virtual machines. Picture this: there are about 730 hours in a month, which means AWS promises your service will be partying online for at least 726.5 hours. If not, you should get some sort of compensation—although calculating that might feel like splitting the bill after a group dinner where everyone ordered different dishes.

But here’s the catch: AWS won’t even start thinking about compensation unless your virtual machine has taken a break of more than 3.5 hours in that month. Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure play by similar rules. So, as a DevOps whiz or FinOps prodigy, mastering these SLAs is like knowing the secret menu at your favorite coffee shop—it can definitely make life a bit sweeter (or at least less bitter) during those inevitable cloud downtimes.

The real sting of downtime varies wildly depending on when and how it hits. If your system blips offline while everyone’s sleeping, no biggie. But if it crashes during, say, Black Friday? Ouch, that’s going to hurt both your wallet and your reputation. According to a 2023 survey by the Uptime Institute, more than two-thirds of all outages cost more than $100,000. And let’s not even talk about the unlucky 2% who faced losses north of $40 million.

But here’s the kicker: it’s on you, the user, to clock the downtime, file the claim, and chase down those credits, which, by the way, come as service credits—not cash. They’re only good for future bills with the same cloud provider who let you down in the first place. You’ve got to wonder, is jumping through these hoops even worth the paltry payback? If this sounds like a nightmare you’re not alone; good news has put together a tool to make sense of the mess.

Cloud providers aren’t exactly hiding the ball here; these terms are plastered all over their websites. They’re covering their bases without overcommitting, which is fair game—but it means we, as cloud users, need to keep our expectations in check regarding what SLAs really offer.

Think of an SLA as less of a bulletproof vest and more of a lightweight shield—a mix of deterrent against poor performance and a marketing ploy to boost customer confidence. Given the frequent mismatches between promised and actual uptime, it’s clear that SLAs and those impressive availability stats shouldn’t be taken as gospel. They’re optimistic, not guaranteed.

In a nutshell, downtime is not well advertised. If you are looking for more details from a neutral third party and would like an easy button to recapture SLA revenue, check out for a free analysis.