Cloud services have been firmly established as a viable option for a wide variety of critical business processes, including email, archiving, storage, productivity applications, and even mission-critical enterprise applications.
But if you aren't running your applications in-house, you're dependent on another company's ability to stay up and running, provide security, and deliver services to you without downtime. The first step towards achieving that level of assurance is in the selection process, making sure that you have a strong provider that has been in business for several years, and has a reliable infrastructure in place with all the requisite security protections and redundancies.
The second step is to negotiate a service level agreement (SLA).
Most reliable cloud services providers will offer an SLA of some sort, although it is important to note that not all SLAs are equal. The most important elements of a good SLA are:
The enforcement of an SLA may come in the form of a penalty against the provider for not meeting the terms of the agreement.
If for example, the uptime expectation is not met during a given month, the SLA may specify that a discounted rate should apply for that period.
Furthermore, the SLA should specifically lay out how long the user of services should realistically have to wait for a positive response in various situations. As always, this should be very specific. A routine outage may carry with it a response time measured in minutes, while a major natural disaster may require a longer response time.
A cloud services provider is likely to have a standard SLA for general use, but service buyers should realize that the standard template may not be appropriate for their own situation. Review the standard SLA carefully.
In most cases, especially if the service buyer is a larger organization, the terms of the SLA are negotiable. Nail down these terms before signing the contract for services.
Also, some cloud services providers may offer tiered levels of service within the SLA; this is a realistic way to easily provide for different circumstances and different levels of guarantee. It would be common for example, for a provider to offer three tiers of service, each with progressively better service level guarantees, at different price levels.
Lastly, the services buyer should have an assurance that they are receiving the specified level of service on an ongoing basis. This is achieved with the reporting function; the SLA should include a provision for reporting on a periodic basis to provide clear metrics which show in specific terms what service level has been provided. The reports should show any anomalies, or areas where service dipped below specified levels.
Cloud-based services add a layer of abstraction to critical business processes, and tend to obscure issues like performance. The service level agreement adds a measure of clarity to the cloud, making these services invaluable to businesses seeking a financial and competitive edge.
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