SLAs: Reflecting End-to-End Reality or a Compartmentalized View of the Cloud?

Amy Larsen DeCarlo

Amy Larsen DeCarlo

Summary Bullets:

  • Cloud providers tend to gravitate toward offering SLAs focused on particular elements of delivery – server availability, network uptime, support response times, etc, but focusing on these components as discrete elements overlooks the end-to-end view.
  • Lackluster SLAs may limit adoption, while performance guarantees that focus on how the on-demand service benefits operations can be appealing differentiators for a solution.

Service level agreements (SLAs) play a crucial role in the adoption of any technology or service model, providing the baseline reassurance an organization needs to trust its provider’s delivery capabilities. The best SLAs demonstrate a provider’s certainty that the service it is supplying to clients can effectively support the client’s operational needs and business objectives. Unfortunately during the early phase in the delivery of a new service, providers concerned about over-promising and under-delivering on service commitments are likely to aim low with their SLA guarantees.

This seems to be the case with cloud SLAs where often tepid SLAs focus on discrete elements of service delivery and so aren’t exactly inspiring client confidence. This doesn’t mean there is any kind of client-side revolt in process; quite to the contrary. In the Current Analysis 2012 survey on Enterprise Cloud Adoption, most organizations rated their satisfaction level with their current cloud SLAs at three, four, or five on a seven point scale (with seven being the highest). However, there is clear room for improvement, with only six percent of enterprises currently using enterprise cloud services saying they are “highly satisfied” with their SLAs.

Any number of issues may interfere with the perception organizations have of their cloud service delivery and consequential confidence in their provider, including substandard performance commitments and the reactive nature of the SLAs. However, a broader concern is the failure of many providers to connect cloud SLAs with key performance indicators (KPIs). To do so requires the provider has both an understanding of their clients’ operational objectives and a cohesive view of cloud performance, and is able to link the two.  Many providers lack this insight, and thus can’t make meaningful performance guarantees.

As a result, some organizations – including many of the largest enterprises – are more than a little shy about moving all but the most tactical application workloads to the cloud. What business and public sector organizations need is assurance from their providers that they have embedded controls to support very specific commitments about overall service quality.

The ability to translate IT metrics into true business value can be a key differentiator for providers. And while these kinds of agreements have been somewhat scarce until now, the good news is we are starting to see more providers step in with business-focused SLAs – and the means to deliver on those promises.

So what has your experience been with cloud SLAs? Are you satisfied with the guarantees or is there something missing? Let your cloud service providers know and they might do something about it.

About Amy Larsen DeCarlo
As Principal Analyst for Security and Data Center Services at Current Analysis, Amy assesses the managed IT services sector, with an emphasis on security and data center solutions delivered through the cloud including on demand application and managed storage offerings.

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