Will there ever be a realistic SLA?

I read a blog last week that I thought was pretty insightful because it was an actual event that was used as a backdrop of making a point that SLA’s, while an expectation in today’s data center world, still aren’t worth much. The scenario was recent – a data center in Dallas went lights out. Totally lights out, Fortunately there was an SLA, however the business losses and the SLA were worlds apart in value.

As a data center guy I have written, edited, and negotiated maybe a dozen different types. There are SLA’s for power, for network, for apps, for hardware, for every component EXCEPT functionality. Yet when the shit hits the fan, all anyone cares about is that the application works. Not if there was a bad card in a router, or if the OS went rogue with a bad process, or a plug got too hot and set off the VESDA. The translation here is that if the shit hits the fan, the provider has all of the required components covered so that functionality is maintained. The reality is that if YOU the customer/tenant haven’t taken responsibility for architecting the environment to maintain functionality no matter what, then it won’t be. Too many interdependent variables that create an environment for a domino effect to really do some damage. Google still has Gmail outages that cost a lot of ad revenue.

So let’s say that the customer really, really, really, really, needed an SLA that protected them, that was 100%, a real 100% SLA that of anything went wrong they would be compensated for whatever expense an aggravation they incurred as a result of an event that was unplanned or catastrophic, or both. As a provider – and I have been one – I would want the customer who wanted that kind of SLA to declare to me on a weekly basis what the value of the data was, what changes to the systems they made were and how it followed a strict risk mitigation protocol, and declare to me that whatever changes were made they would on;y affect their environment. not anyone else’s. Then I would want access to the environment so that I could perform an audit when they made their declaration, and every month for as long as they were a customer. Why?

Because SLA’s are about risk. If a customer or tenant is asking me to assume more risk than the risk I have designed into my systems, then guess what? Anything that is over the existing risk line I am going to de-risk. I am going to de-risk that customer’s risk they same way I mitigate and de-risk my own environments – understand how the environment is built, how it is supported, how it is tested, and how it is audited. And make sure that it actually is. If all of it checks out and they do things as we would do then that helps keep real and perceived risk in check. We still have the value of the data to determine. That I would leave to a third party to figure out and give me a number, then get an insurance policy for the value of the data with a variable value assigned to it so that as the value of the data goes up, the policy covers the value. No audit, then the customer gets the number of my data insurer and they can have the chat we just had with the underwriter themselves.

So what is the reality in this ‘perfect’ scenario? IT’S NOT REALITY!

It’s not reality because most customers don’t want anyone sniffing or poking around their infrastructure – landlords, auditors, even colleagues. They won’t give anyone access to the data because it’s valuable. But they won’t let anyone else tell them how valuable, and there is no carfax for data or apps, so it’s a customer’s word against the landlord/provider when it comes to the value.

Bottom line here – if you want a 100% SLA, then it’s on you, the customer, to define and quantify what that means. You want a better approach? Execute a better strategy. Have redundant environments. Have facilities in two or more locations, use cloud environments to do it.

And if you have a 100% SLA, cut it up into four inch squares and use it to trim your toilet paper budget for 2014, or use it if the data center does go dark. Because that SLA will typically cover one month of rent, and definitely won’t cover a new pair of boxer shorts that will absolutely need to be replaced…




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