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100 percent availability SLAs don't always add up

By Oscar Arean.

Service level agreements (SLAs) have long been used by organizations to create mutually beneficial working relationships between a customer and its backup and disaster recovery provider.

SLAs are the most important part of a contract because they outline the exact uptime or recovery times the service provider is prepared to commit to. There is no room for sales or marketing-speak because if SLAs are not met, the customer is able to seek compensation.

For SLAs to have real value, it’s important that they are realistic. This is particularly true within the cloud industry.

Cloud adoption in the UK is growing at a rapid rate. The latest figures from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) show 78 percent of UK organizations are now adopting at least one cloud based service. In my experience, organizations often choose disaster recovery as their first stepping stone into cloud services, so they need assurances from their cloud service provider (CSP) regarding the standard of service and level of uptime they can expect.

SLAs should be based on specific business needs, like the uptime of a service, or how quickly you can recover your data. Some SLAs will not be negotiable: data centre availability will likely be standard for all customers, for example. It may be possible for service providers to improve on their standard SLAs, though this usually comes at an additional cost.

With a lack of standardised SLAs for the industry, some CSPs have chosen to use vague and ambiguous terminology to advertise their alleged effectiveness. Some even offer unachievable levels of service in a bid to gain leverage in a crowded market place. They offer 100 percent SLAs, knowing that they won’t achieve them, but on the basis that it will be cheaper to pay compensation for missing the SLA on the occasions that they do, rather than miss out on the deal altogether. What we end up seeing as a result is end users who are ill-equipped to deal with unexpected outages. If CSPs are transparent about the risks from the start, customers can put the appropriate precautions in place to minimise disruption.

Ultimately, end-users want honesty and transparency from their CSPs.

A 100 percent SLA usually translates as 99.99 percent or 99.9999 percent. The difference may seem minimal but it could be the difference between 50 minutes of downtime per year against just five minutes. If SLAs are being advertised at 100 percent, that is what you expect to receive. If you start miss-selling your service not only are you putting your customers at risk, but you’re risking the reputation of the industry as a whole.

CSPs and end-users need to work together - from the CSPs side, realistic expectations must be set around the level of service it is able to provide. End-users need to ensure that they are very clear about what they require from the service, but equally CSPs need to ensure they are transparent with what can and cannot be offered. In doing so, clear SLAs can be defined that ultimately contribute to a stronger, more coherent working relationship between both parties.

The author
Oscar Arean is Technical Operations Manager, Databarracks.

•Date: 9th September 2014 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: Cloud computing

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