Developing Clear and Effective Cloud Service Agreements
In the realm of public or hybrid clouds, service level agreements (SLAs) are the contracts that control the business relationship between a cloud provider and the company that hires it. It’s paramount, experts say, that clients negotiate those agreements in ways that make sure they get what they really need. This can be a more subtle art than most contract negotiations.
To avoid costly and embarrassing issues it is paramount cloud SLAs are not viewed as many IT contracts are: “sign-and-forget”, says Hank Marquis, practice director for Cloud Solutions at Global Knowledge. Usually, for instance, the SLA contains penalties if a cloud provider’s service goes down for an extended period of time. That’s fine for recouping a month or two of fees but it does nothing to recapture lost business or assuage disgruntled customers.
Although developed as a resource for IT, the IT Infrastructure Library’s (ITIL) Service Design book is a good place to start understanding what elements constitute a cloud “service” in terms that are relevant to the business and IT, says Marquis. Much of what is important to each party in the transaction can be lost in translation (literally) if each side does not appreciate or work to understand the other’s needs and how they express them.
The concepts of “uptime” and “availability” are good examples. Uptime is IT-speak for whether or not the network is functioning properly between two points; availability is whether an application is usable even if it is connected to the network and visible. They’re different. If an SLA stipulates a given amount of uptime but not availability, the cloud service can be unusable but still in compliance with the SLA.
"Important items include more than simply metrics," says Marquis. "SLAs also need to include performance issues like responsiveness at scale, security metrics, recovery metrics, upgrade policies, prior version/upgrade policies, portability guarantees as well as recovery issues." The SLA must also include nuances like how the provider will work with you to resolve problems.
"With cloud especially, your exit plan is the first thing you develop” says Marquis. “Then you choose a provider, then you try to work the SLA to ensure you can solve the two largest cloud computing issues: interoperability — the need to interface with legacy and/or other cloud services sometime in the future — and … portability, which is where you want to leave your provider but are locked in and cannot."
It’s also important to remember that you may well have multiple SLAs for many distinct types of cloud services: software (SaaS), platform (PaaS) and infrastructure (IaaS). Each offering will be consumed by different divisions and will require you to negotiate based on their specific needs. Or, to make matters just a little more opaque: all three could be consumed by just one practice area like IT, and if one goes down the others may not perform as required.
Be sure to read the fine print …,” cautions IT research firm Frost & Sullivan in its 2011 Tips for Choosing a Cloud Service Provider. “Reports of cloud outages often include statements from outraged clients who were shocked—shocked—to learn that a prolonged outage was actually permissible under the terms of the provider’s ‘annual average’ availability metric.
“Remember” the report says, “it’s not about getting the ‘best’ SLAs; it’s about getting the terms that are most meaningful to you and your business.”
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