Monday, October 8, 2007

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

This blog has been dedicated to helping guys like you choose the Internet service that’s best for you. I want to shift focus to what’s next after you’ve done the research (like reading my blogs *wink*), and got your checkbook ready.

When you’ve settled with a particular ISP, make sure you read and pay attention to the Service Level Agreement (SLA). Every company will have one of these, and most of them have it posted on their websites. An SLA is part of a service contract where the level of service is formally defined. In our case, it’ll be a contract between the customers and the service providers. The contract states the common understanding about services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantee, etc. The main purpose of an SLA is to specify the levels of availability, serviceability, performance, operation or other attributes of the services like billing, or even penalties in the case of violation of the SLA. You are usually guaranteed 99.99% availability, so request monitoring reports that track downtime. Most providers will make this information available to you upon request. Think about it, if you don’t make a payment on time, you get penalized. Why not make sure you get everything you’re paying for then? A contract goes both ways folks.

Until a few years ago, SLAs were not widely offered by Internet access providers, but they are now standard for high-speed Internet access like T1. DSL and Cable modem Internet are “best effort” services without a guaranteed level of service. To get credited for service outage, I’ve personally had to call, wait an hour to reach an actual human being on the line, and then chew out the unfortunate customer service rep that received my phone call before they even offered to give me credit. Even then, you don’t know when your Internet connection will be up again. Now take a look at getting a high-speed connection, like T1 lines, with a solid SLA with the guarantee of immediate attention when you have problems, and you’ve got a winner among businesses. It’s arguable that SLAs are one of the main reasons T1 lines are the most popular choice for Internet access among businesses.

SLAs protect businesses by making access providers pay penalties to the customer for downtime that exceeds a specified total in availability. With that being said, some SLAs are pretty pitiful. When your service is down, the poor SLAs will only reward you credit for the time your service is down. If you’re running a company and you don’t have the Internet for your day to day work, you’re missing out on a considerable amount of money. Service provider Netifice has a good example of a strong SLA. They will credit you a week if you are down 4 hours and a month if you are down a day. Sure, you’re losing the income from the day your Internet is down, but at least you’re being compensated with something.

When agreeing upon the Service Level Agreement, you may want to include additional provisions, such as negotiating a more reliable connection that includes alternate routes for your data, create on-call backup circuits, and attempt to specify more severe penalties for service provider failures. Like I said, if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, you get bad credit, etc. Make sure this business deal benefits both parties. Try to discuss SLAs up front with the provider since the agreements are negotiable.

To sum things up, you want to make sure your SLA draws out terms of availability, performance, and measurement. You want to know if the service is available and if it’s good enough. Make sure your SLA is one that clearly defines responsibilities, is attainable, meaningful, cost effective, and mutually acceptable.