Cloud SLAs 'fall short,' says user advocacy group

Service level agreements can be cumbersome and skewed in the provider’s favor.

Service level agreements in the cloud computing market are skewed in the favor of providers, can be difficult for customers to decipher and in some cases are rigid and non-negotiable. Those are some of the findings from the Cloud Standards Customer Council, a user advocacy group that recently reviewed SLAs from some of the industry’s largest providers.

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SLAs typically cover the terms and conditions of using the provider’s cloud, fees, liability and security, as well as uptime and data management, among a variety of other topics.

CSCC – which is a consumer advocacy group backed by dozens of the largest cloud providers - did not disclose which public cloud provider contracts were examined, but they note that they are based on a review of publicly available agreements from “leading public cloud providers.”

A lack of commonality across SLAs from various providers makes it difficult for users to conduct an apples-to-apples comparison, the CSCC found.  Important language about key service level guarantees can be scattered across several documents and be difficult to understand.

Generally, the SLAs are weighted heavily in the provider’s favor, leading to the vendor’s liability being limited. The burden is usually more likely on the consumer to recognize breaches of the SLA, notify their service provider and request a credit.

CSCC has advice for users who are evaluating public cloud service providers. The most critical thing is for customers to understand their business uses for the cloud and any critical performance objectives. Then, search for those in the document.

For example, if a user is evaluating a public cloud option for disaster recovery and business continuity, they may be especially concerned about how the data is backed up by the provider across multiple sites to ensure availability and uptime. If the cloud is being used for test and development of products and services, perhaps uptime is not as important of a factor as ensuring security features, such as data isolation and deletion upon termination of the service.

During a recent webinar, researchers who compiled the report said the findings reinforce that it’s critical for enterprises to do their homework before jumping into the public cloud. In many cases, businesses evaluate their public cloud based on performance, price and other apples-to-apples benchmarks among providers. But, in some cases cloud SLAs could have terms and conditions that are non-negotiable that may prevent a business from using the service. Steven Woodward, who helped write the report, recommend to start by looking at the SLAs, then move into the other benchmark evaluations. If the SLAs do not meet the users’ requirements, perhaps a private cloud, managed hosting or collocation option would be better option.

“We definitely expect that as the industry matures, and as there are more and more discussions about use cases between providers and users, we’ll start seeing more educated consumers,” says, Claude Baudoin, an IT consultant who helped compile the report. He’s hopeful these better buyers will push vendors into amending their SLAs to be more clear, concise, standardized and user-friendly.here.

The CSCC’s full whitepaper can be read

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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