Welcome!

SOA & WOA Authors: Bernard Golden, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Ivan Antsipau, Paul Speciale

Related Topics: SOA & WOA, .NET, Search, AJAX & REA, Web 2.0, Security

SOA & WOA: Blog Post

Your Service Level Agreement Stinks

Here’s what to look for – or avoid – in an SLA

When you're dealing with something as critical as your business infrastructure, you want to be sure that you'll get what you signed up for. If a company promises something, and you promise your colleagues something based on it, you want it to happen. That's where the service level agreement comes in. It's part of your contract that tells you what to expect and what happens if the company fails to meet those marks. Simple enough, right? Wrong.

Not all service level agreements are created equal. At a minimum, an SLA will formally define the services in a contract. In their highest forms, SLAs embody the values and capabilities of an entire organization, and they provide a clear benchmark for employee performance and customer satisfaction. If you are comparing IT service providers, it's time to set the bar high. Simply put, you want an SLA that is transparent, accountable, holistic, and logical for the provider. Here's how to spot it.

Most SLAs
Typical SLAs are buried in 20 pages of legalese. If you can find it, and cut through all the jargon, you might gain a vague idea of what will happen when your service provider fails you. And when your service experiences a disruption - which will eventually happen in one form, no matter which provider you choose - it will fall on you to translate the SLA and request credit, and of course, the company will make it as tiresome as possible to get your money.

Few customers actually get rebated by companies like this, and that, I can assure you, is a business strategy. If you provide a strong service, you don't need to hide behind a labyrinth of legal jargon. And if you are a customer, you do not want to entrust your IT infrastructure or assets with a company that is opaque, indifferent, and irresponsible.

Transparency
Good providers tell their customers exactly what they're going to get, and tell them exactly what is going on at all times. This is all that customers ask. Speed, though desirable, can never compensate for unpredictability and deceptiveness. An enlightened SLA needs to detail specific, measurable commitments that tell customers what service they will receive, how quickly they're going to receive it, and what happens if they don't get that service.

Let me give a clear example from my experience with IT infrastructure hosting and cloud computing at SingleHop. We have an SLA we call the "Customer Bill of Rights." It more or less anchors every facet of our service. It is in fact an extension of our entire system. We operate on a principle called "Operational Transparency." This means that if a server goes down, we update affected clients in real time. If they wonder "have our servers gone down? If so, how long have they been down this quarter?" or "how much time do I wait for a response from tech support?" they can view a digital Report Card that details each item in their SLA and shows continuously updated data on how SingleHop is performing relative to each agreement. That is transparency. When you combine operational transparency with a detailed SLA, it turns all the usual mirrors around into clear glass.

Accountability

What happens when a company messes up? Well, several things can happen:

  1. Irate customers cancel their contract.
  2. Irate customers invite their provider to a brawl in the legal ring.
  3. Irate customers watch their provider take responsibility and then respect them for it.

Everyone should prefer option #3. Cancelling a contract and shifting providers is costly and legal battles are very expensive. Migrations are dangerous and can disrupt business. You want an SLA that holds your provider accountable for any failures - be they outages or just slow responses. You should know the exact deployment time for a server and know exactly how much you will be credited if your service provider exceeds that time. You should know the expected response time from tech support, and know exactly how much you will be compensated if they take longer.

You know all this information not because you've been timing your service provider, but because they offer this information upfront. Don't work with a company that you must lasso and tie-down for a rebate.

Holistic
How many interactions does the SLA cover? And, do items in the SLA conflict? For example, if an SLA promises support updates every three hours, but does not give a first response time, what good is the SLA? You could still bleed money for eight hours before getting a life raft. Great SLAs are comprehensive and holistic. They encourage customer-provider symbiosis. The best SLAs actually play into the interests of the provider - remember, they want lots of happy, sustainable customers.

As a customer, map out your anticipated interactions. If the SLA covers each interaction, it is holistic. If not, you can do or request better.

Understanding What's Not Mentioned
There are a lot of different aspects to an IaaS SLA that should but are not always mentioned. These are obvious to providers but not all customers see them right away. How fast does it take to replace a broken hard drive? Does the company keep replacement parts in stock or does it need to order them? Is there a senior tech available at all hours, and if so, how fast do escalations take? Make a list of the concerns you have, talk to people who have been through it and ask lots of questions. Sometimes when something is omitted, it's omitted for a reason.

Business Logic
Finally, a great SLA should be good for the receiver and the provider. If you are the customer, you should want transparency, accountability, and comprehensiveness to be in the interest of your service provider. Why? Because in an ideal world, you can rely on the same IT infrastructure for years and years, and frankly, that means your provider must succeed. And, if meeting the SLA is in the interest of the provider, then the provider will probably use it to evaluate their employees, sift out the bad eggs, and measure company-wide improvement. If, however, the SLA is against the interests of the company, then your provider may in fact discourage its employees from being too forthcoming and helpful.

Think about an SLA as the ‘moral' code for a company. If being "good" actual falls in line with a company's desire for profit, then that company is more likely to follow their code. If being "good" exacts cruel and unusual punishment on a company, then they will prefer to be "bad." Look for alignment between a company's interests and SLA. If they disagree, run for the hills.

Be Fruitful and Provide
A Service Level Agreement is a template for how a business intends to interact with customers. If it is transparent, accountable, holistic, and business-savvy, it is a winner. If you need a machete and $400 per hour guide to find it in the legal jungle and understand it, it is time to explore other options.

More Stories By Dan Ushman

Dan Ushman, Co-Founder and CMO of SingleHop, focuses on the company’s global marketing strategy and operations. He regularly attends and speaks at industry and marketing events. As a recognized thought leader in online marketing, Dan is one of the few internet marketing professionals to hold a Horizon Award for Marketing Innovation. When he isn’t working, he can be found in his kitchen whipping up homemade BBQ sauce, or in front of the grill with a spatula putting that sauce to work.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, will describe how to revoluti...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash Inc., will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
BSQUARE is a global leader of embedded software solutions. We enable smart connected systems at the device level and beyond that millions use every day and provide actionable data solutions for the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. We empower our world-class customers with our products, services and solutions to achieve innovation and success. For more information, visit www.bsquare.com.
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic • Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it’s a mix of architectural style...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accelerate their digital channels with APIs, drive partner adoption, monetize their assets, and achieve a...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
Connected devices are changing the way we go about our everyday life, from wearables to driverless cars, to smart grids and entire industries revolutionizing business opportunities through smart objects, capable of two-way communication. But what happens when objects are given an IP-address, and we rely on that connection, sometimes with our lives? How do we secure those vast data infrastructures and safe-keep the privacy of sensitive information? This session will outline how each and every connected device can uphold a core root of trust via a unique cryptographic signature – a “bir...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.