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A Rapid Evolution of Cloud SLAs

By CIOReview | Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The inception of cloud computing and the expansion of its services has taken the IT industry to a whole newechelon. Understandably, cloud computing is a way to reduce technical complexity and investment budget and at the same time,gain flexibility, agility, and productivity. According to a recent survey conducted by Rightscale—a universal cloud management platform provider, there has been a gradual increase in adoption of Hybrid clouds among enterprises as the number has risen to 82 percent from 74 percent in the past year. The research also reveals that 88 percent of enterprises are using public cloud while 63 percent are using private cloud.

As the cloud landscape is expanding gradually, the need of fulfilling the customer requirements is the genre which cloud technology providers are envisioning. Also, focusing on the credibility and sophistication of today’s cloud offerings, companies look to strike a deal with the most comprehensive cloud service provider through Service Level Agreements (SLAs). As output-based contracts, an SLA specifically defines what the customer will receive and not how the service itself is delivered, as it chalks out the services delivered by a cloud provider to fulfill the requirements of their customers. According to David Linthicum, a cloud computing visionary and CEO of Cloud Technology Partners, “As massive amounts of workloads migrate to the cloud, SLAs should begin a rapid evolution. Security, for instance, should be a priority. Businesses need to put pressure on public cloud providers to offer a certain level of security, as well as mechanisms to remain in compliance. And those compliance features should cover existing laws, as well as laws that evolve over the years.”

The Strength of SLAs

According to Gartner,an institution considering cloud computing should understand the detailed terms and conditions and the risks of signing the service provider’s standard contract before moving to a cloud computing solution.SLAs set expectations for both cloud service providers and enterprisesand act as the roadmap for change in the cloud technology—both expected and unexpected. Just as any IT project would have a roadmap with clearly defined deliverables, an SLA is equally critical for working with cloud infrastructure. While SLAs are transparentand provide a clear idea about the services being offered such as SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS,they also specify the purpose and objectives of business level policies, doling out roles and responsibilities of both cloud service providers and cloud users.

According to Dan Sullivan, Research Scientist and Data Architect of New Relic software analytics company,“As more workloads move to the cloud, it’s crucial for users to assess theircloud providers’ SLAs and understand the requirements for making a claim under an SLA.” SLAs monitor the service quality, performance, priorities, and responsibilities from a service point of view. In addition to the monitoring of service quality, SLAs give a transparent view to know about the service management requirements in case of cloud service failure.       

What to look for in a Cloud SLA

• Availability (e.g. 99.99 percent during work days, 99.9 percent for nights/weekends): To check the availability of the service in the stipulated duration of working hours should be panned out on the SLA. Companies need to look out for the availability of services provided by the cloud service providers.

• Performance:Performance plays an important role in seamless working of information technology. Maximum response times determine the quality of the service provided by the provider

• Security / privacy of the data: Security should be a major consideration when it comes to storing your company’s critical data in the cloud. Cloud providers should have several standard security measures in place and constantly update them. Security measures to look for include firewalls, anti-virus detection, multifactor user authentication and data encryption, and routine security audits. It’s also important to ask who at the cloud company will have access to your data in the cloud and whether the cloud provider does employee background checks to weed out potential cybercriminals or identity thieves.

• Disaster Recovery expectations:You need to ask your cloud service provider what its data-protection policy is and what its audit procedures are. And then you should perform due diligence on those procedures.

• Access to the data:Data loss is a reality and a sizeable chunk of all data-loss incidents can be attributed to third-party providers. As a result, you need to know whether the service provider, who is the administrator of the system, can see your data.

• Portability of the data:This is a question few companies ask—until it's too late. Porting data between cloud service providers is a relatively new capability and only a small number of service providers have implemented what will become a very necessary service.

• What is your pricing structure: Be wary of large upfront costs, which aren’t the norm for reputable cloud vendors. The pricing scheme should be pay-as-you go from the outset, with the ability to add services as needed. Fees can typically be charged hourly, monthly, semi-annually or annually, depending on the vendor. Pricing for cloud computing services can vary significantly, from as low as about $1 per month per user to $100 a month per user and up, depending on a company’s needs. 

The Road Ahead

With SLA’s being critical in setting expectations for the service levels between the cloud consumer and the cloud provider, the industry experts of Wipro mentioned,“An SLA with a cloud service provider should include a prominent mention of specific parameters and minimum levels required for each element of the service, as well as remedies for failure to meet those requirements.”  As contemplated by experts, Cloud SLA’s will play an important role in implementation of service between the provider and user in near future. In order to get the most out of the technology SLAs need to be framed and panned out well between both the parties and all the working scenarios should be penned down in the SLA. So for any discrepancy, the company and the cloud provider should be held responsible and all the clauses of the agreement should be explained.