The 4 P’s of Effective SLA Evaluation

NetgainCloud Computing, Financial IT, Healthcare IT, Performance & Availability

Whether you’re shopping for a car, appliances, or another major purchase, you likely pay extra attention to the warranty. What does it cover? How long does it last? What are the stipulations? What happens if it doesn’t work? After all, you have a lot at stake – money, productivity and safety.

When evaluating your cloud computing options, the warranty is equally as important. In the cloud, it’s commonly called the Service Level Agreement (SLA). Every cloud provider’s SLA varies and with your practice or firms most sensitive data at stake, choosing the right provider is critical to your cloud strategy.

Here are 4 factors to consider when evaluating SLAs of potential cloud partners:

  1. Promises
    This is the most standard element of an SLA, detailing uptime guarantees, support response time and maintenance windows.Microsoft’s Office365’s SLA, for example, offers one-hour support response times only for issues that prevent you from accessing or using your services. For all other issues, they provide no commitment to response time. Most healthcare practices or financial firms require a higher level of support. Private cloud partners are able to customize some of these stipulations to meet the urgent needs of a healthcare practice. Netgain’s average response time for urgent needs are significantly better than industry averages, reflecting the value placed on responding to emergent needs within the clinical or financial environment.
  1. Provisioning
    This section of the SLA outlines details of how servers, compute, storage and other resources are provisioned and utilized. The provisioning, or design, of your platform will determine how your users interact with the cloud, how it integrates with other platforms and ultimately the availability, security and performance of your data. When you evaluate this section of a proposed SLA, look for correlation in two areas; a) how does this correlate to your history of adding/moving resources in IT – is there provision for the typical ways your practice or firm uses IT?, and b) are the costs of resources that may need to be provisioned clearly understood and stipulated?
  1. Penalties
    Financial penalties for underperformance shows the cloud provider has stake in the game. With the hope that you never have to use this provision, it shows the provider’s confidence in the solution and commitment to provide a high-level of availability.Most cloud providers offer 99.9 percent availability for their cloud platform, equating to about 43 minutes of downtime per month. When availability drops below the threshold outlined in the SLA, some cloud providers offer financial credits. Credits may vary based on when issues occur – on-hours (clinical hours) downtime is obviously more impactful, and thus subject to more penalty, than off-hours downtime. Providers may, when absolutely necessary, act outside of established maintenance windows to handle emergent issues – when that occurs, look for the service provider to be conscious of your operating hours.When evaluating financial penalties for availability, it’s important to understand how this stipulation can be measured and enforced. Ideally, your cloud provider will provide uptime reports on a monthly basis that will help you recognize when uptime falls short of what the SLA promises.
  1. Process
    The complex nature of clinical and financial operations typically leads to a greater need for customization of applications, support and infrastructure.For instance, if a cloud provider’s maintenance window is on Thursday evenings from 8-9 pm, but your clinic is open during that time, can your cloud provider move the maintenance window to a time that works better for your practice? Typically, this level of customization is only available on private cloud platforms.In the “process” area of the SLA, look for two areas of detail; a) is there clearly a process for managing services (i.e. deciding on a maintenance window, how change management decisions are communicated to user groups), and; b) is there clearly a process for managing the SLA (and issues with services) and how complaints or claims are made?

Negotiating an SLA is possible with the right cloud provider and should be one of the first terms discussed during your cloud evaluation process. These small details in your SLA can mean a better experience for your users, more value for your practice or firm’s budget and a cloud environment that is customized for your organization’s unique needs.