Cloud service providers and end users: Lets lose the rigidity of the SLA, argues exec

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.

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A senior executive at cloud services provider Claranet has claimed that most cloud services providers and end users are relying too much on the standard service level agreement.

Paul Marland, Claranet director of account management, believes that cloud service today is far more dynamic. Contracts can – and should – change dependent on the customer’s need, and the classic SLA prohibits that.

“The vast majority of SLAs don’t really get to the heart of what’s important to customers – or, at the very least, fall short of guaranteeing what customers really need and expect, beyond uptime and availability,” Marland said.

“As businesses have come to rely more heavily on third parties to deliver their IT, and as solutions have become more complex, ‘good service’ can’t simply be reduced to the pure metrics of service availability,” he added.

Marland argues it’s not just a numbers game for end users, and that performance is key. The SLA might stipulate a five nines uptime, and the service provider may be adhering to that, but it doesn’t mean emails are being sent as fast as they could be, or pages are loading fast enough to take advantage of click-throughs.

“These performance-based issues have proven to be something of a bugbear for the service provider industry,” he admits. “[It’s] a grey area that falls beyond the remit of the traditional SLA, but remains key to the overall customer experience.

“The industry tends to measure against technical metrics, but it’s important to remember that it’s the end user’s actual experience that counts.”

Another big problem with SLAs is that if – or when – they invariably fall, figures and claims have to be reassessed and CSPs can feel the brunt of customers’ ire. When Autotask’s systems fell over for several hours back in July, the company admitted to CloudTech that it had put them a little bit below four nines in the affected zones. Some providers offer a 100% uptime agreement – iomart being one example, as well as Mimecast before it fell last year – yet the issue remains a thorny one.

As a result, OpenStack solutions and partnerships are the order of the day for a lot of vendors. Doug Clark, UK&I cloud leader at IBM, cited that as a main issue when speaking over IBM and SAP’s major enterprise cloud partnership earlier this week. You can use SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud on IBM Managed Services, or SoftLayer, and there isn’t anything tying you down to it.

Marland notes that if the SLA is technically exceeding customers’ expectations yet the CSP is still getting complaints over service, it points to a SLA that’s too generic, and doesn’t fit the specific performance objectives of the end user.

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