Service Level Agreements

March 7, 2017

If your Networks is critical to you being able to do business, you can’t afford downtime. Is your service level agreement up to snuff? Do you even have one?

It’s 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. The phone rings. A voice you vaguely recognize yammers at you. Through the fog of sleep you hear something about “your Lucite’s brown.”

“Mmmrrrfff,” you mumble and hang up the phone.

Just before falling asleep again, it hits you: This was not a prank call about brown Lucite. YOUR WEBSITE’S DOWN.

You are wide awake now. The site can’t be down; your business depends on it! Hoping it was a prank call after all, you check your site, and sure enough, it says, “404 – Not Found.”

Now what?

Desperately, you hunt around for the number for your web hosting provider. Eventually, you dig it up from an old email. You dial…it rings for a bit, and then a recorded message informs you that “our service hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time, Monday through Friday. Please call back during our regular service hours.”

Guess what you just learned? You have a lousy service level agreement (or maybe no service level agreement) with your web hosting provider.

If you don’t know what a service level agreement (SLA) is, or don’t know what yours says, it’s time for a refresher.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) 101

An SLA is an agreement between you (the customer) and some kind of service provider, such as your web hosting provider, telephone provider, and so on. You may even have one with your web developer. It outlines each party’s responsibilities in the event of a problem and defines how the service provider classifies and resolves problems.

A good SLA has, at a minimum, the following characteristics:

  • Clearly spelled-out service days and hours and contact information
  • Clearly defined problem severity levels
  • Response and resolution time targets for each severity level
  • What happens when a time target is missed
  • How problems are “escalated” to personnel with higher levels of expertise

Some SLAs also include information about uptime guarantees, such as 99.99%.

Some providers have a one-size-fits-all SLA that applies to all customers, and others have varying service levels (and prices). The “standard” SLA might provide less than 24/7 coverage, or a limited number of calls per month, or relaxed response and resolution time targets, whereas higher-priced plans have higher service levels.

3 Questions to Ask before Getting an SLA

Every business-critical service you pay for—that is, those services that could harm your business should they become unavailable—should come with an SLA. If you haven’t done so lately, now is a good time to take a look at your service providers and ask yourself:

Do I have an SLA with each one? If not, or if you don’t know, contact your provider and find out. If they don’t offer one, it might be time to shop for a new provider.

If I have an SLA, where did I put it? If the answer is “in the trash,” “in a box of papers in the basement,” or “beats the heck out of me,” contact your provider and get a new copy. Keep it where you can find it at a moment’s notice. An SLA is like a fire extinguisher: You (hopefully) won’t need it often, but you should know where it is at all times.

What are the terms of the SLA? Do they meet my needs? Perhaps they were adequate when you first signed up, but as your business has grown, your reliance on that service has become greater, and you have outgrown the original SLA. If so, contact your provider to negotiate a better one.

You should also set a reminder for yourself to ask these questions again every year.

With a good SLA in place, the scenario at the beginning of this article would have had quite a different path. A real person would have answered the call, evaluated the symptoms, and routed the issue to the right people to resolve the problem. Within minutes, the issue would have been found and fixed, and your website would be running smoothly again.



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