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Defining a Hybrid Cloud Service Level Agreement

In a hybrid cloud environment, a service level agreement (SLA) — a document between a service user and a service provider that defines uptime, availability, and performance — becomes more complicated than an SLA for a private cloud service, which is very similar if not identical to the SLA between a business unit and the IT organization.

Given the current state of the world, what should a business do about managing service levels across cloud models? You should consider starting at “home” and thinking about what’s most important to the business. Thus, the SLA process begins by setting up a set of principles and requirements that are important to your organization’s success in the market.

Each company will have different requirements and priorities, but the following questions and comments can help get you started on your hybrid SLA journey:

  • What is the overall level of service that your business units require for applications, infrastructure, and processes? When you understand your limitations, you will be in a better position to decide which cloud services to select based not just on price but also on the SLA the company offers.

    For example, perhaps a public cloud service proposes a comprehensive uptime SLA based on offering redundancy of all their services. Or a service provider might provide a virtual private network that gives you extra security you need. Another company might indemnify your company against any legal action based on their failure to live up to an SLA.

    When you understand the needs of each business unit, you can decide where you can afford a quick-and-dirty public service and where you need the high-priced option. You will also know when you need to keep a service behind your firewall in the private cloud or the data center.

  • What type of penalties can you negotiate with cloud service providers? When you understand the areas where you need a higher level of service, you can potentially negotiate contract terms that meet business requirements. Remember that an SLA is a contract for service that has to match your business requirements.

  • Managing the integrity and security of data must be a priority. You need to understand the value of all the data managed in your hybrid cloud environment. All data is not the same. Some data (for example, company financial results and pending deals) needs a high level of protection. Other data (for example, background information and industry statistics) is important, but its loss will not affect the health of the company. Likewise, some countries restrict where and how personal information is stored. An SLA must cover all these issues.

  • What happens if, suddenly, key components of your hybrid environment become unavailable? Part of your overall hybrid SLA has to include a way to handle disasters. Do the cloud providers and your private cloud have a coordinated plan to get things working again? Can you find a way to create a coordinated SLA between the important parties? This will be a new idea to many public cloud providers and the IT organization, so expect to have an important education process. Start sooner rather than later.

  • Understanding where the buck stops in terms of monitoring activity is a priority. The responsibility for monitoring what’s happening in the hybrid cloud is with the organization itself. Therefore, you need to think about the type of tools and techniques that will allow you to have access to performance monitoring for each service you use. At the same time, you need to have a service management strategy that will allow you to look at the entire picture of your hybrid environment.

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