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In the cloud, watch out for deceptive service-level agreements

Cloud SLAs not always customer-friendly

There are many things to consider before moving a business application to the cloud, and the service-level agreement offered by the vendor is among the most important. A vendor might promise five nines of availability – but that’s no consolation if there are no meaningful service credits or an easy way to collect them. “There are very different service-level agreements out there, provided by a whole range of vendors,” says attorney Daren Orzechowski, a partner in White & Case’s intellectual property practice in New York. “Some are more friendly to the consumer or client and others are more heavy-handed in favor of the vendor.”You have to understand what constitutes a violation of the service-level agreement. For example, is downtime caused by scheduled maintenance or emergency maintenance a violation? And if there are repeated violations, does the customer have the right to terminate the contract, or are you stuck no matter how bad the service is? “If you have a violation of the service level, you need to understand what you get for that,” he says. “Do you get a refund? Do you get a credit against future use of the service? What happens if a service level failure happens repeatedly?”Some SLAs require only that the vendor give its “best effort” to avoid downtime. For a customer, it’s better to have any provisions about the vendor’s effort stricken, and simply measure availability by the actual numbers, Orzechowski says. After all, downtime hurts customers whether it is caused by vendor failure or uncontrollable circumstances. Generally speaking, small customers may have to go with the vendor’s standard form SLAs, while larger customers have more ability to negotiate, Orzechowski notes. In any case, he advises hiring a lawyer to help understand the impact of the SLA on your business. Customers should ask vendors for monthly reports that measure performance against agreed-upon metrics, giving the customer an easy way to figure out if the SLA has been violated, he says. Additionally, service-level metrics should be relevant to your business’s needs. “If metrics that tie into SLAs don’t mean anything to you in your day-to-day business, then the SLAs aren’t meaningful to you,” he says. SLAs, like any legal document, can be hard to decipher. GoGrid’s SLA, for example, promises 100% uptime but used to contain what I thought was a pretty confusing statement about what types of failures would allow customers to receive service credits. The statement read as follows:“Individual servers will deliver 100% uptime as monitored within the GoGrid network by GoGrid monitoring systems. Only failures due to known GoGrid problems in the hardware and hypervisor layers delivering individual servers constitute Failures and so are not covered by this SLA.”To me, that statement means failures in the GoGrid system are not covered by the service-level agreement, which would be absurd if true. I contacted GoGrid and the company said it was a simple error in wording, and that credits are awarded to customers affected by failures of the GoGrid hardware and hypervisor layers. GoGrid has since changed the wording to reflect the SLA’s true intent, and it now reads as follows:“Individual servers will deliver 100% uptime as monitored within the GoGrid network by GoGrid monitoring systems. Only failures due to known GoGrid problems in the hardware and hypervisor layers delivering individual servers constitute Failures and so only they are covered by this SLA.”So, that clears up a little confusion in terms of GoGrid. But there are many cloud vendors out there – Amazon, Rackspace, and Salesforce.com, just to name a few. Cloud services are just like any other computer system – downtime will eventually occur. Just make sure there are proper remedies in place before you sign up with a vendor. Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter

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