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Jun 15, 2014

The Truth About IT Service Level Agreements

Sponsored Content provided by Shaun Olsen - Founder, CloudWyze

I’d like to clear up some common misconceptions about Service Level Agreements as they pertain to information technology providers. On the website,, a Service Level Agreement, or SLA, is defined as:

“An agreement between two or more parties, where one is the customer and the others are service providers. This can be a legally binding formal or an informal "contract" (for example, internal department relationships). Contracts between the service provider and other third parties are often (incorrectly) called SLAs – because the level of service has been set by the (principal) customer, there can be no "agreement" between third parties; these agreements are simply contracts."

When shopping for a service provider, you are likely to come across SLAs that claim very high uptimes, like 99.995 percent - 99.9999 percent. These impressive numbers often create a false sense of confidence that the prospective provider can ensure your business is up and running smoothly and efficiently with virtually no downtime. But what they don’t tell you (or at least they bury in very small print) is that the portion of the service they provide and guarantee in their SLAs is just a single part of a complex network of individual pieces and connections that collectively enable you to manage your business. Their SLAs are only relevant for the part they provide, and don’t cover any of the other network parts. The point is that there are a variety of other things that can go wrong (and cause downtime) in parts of the overarching integrated system that most service providers have no control over and don’t include in the SLA numbers.

As explained in my April article, “Is your Internet service ‘dedicated’ to your business?”,  there are two basic types of Internet – Best Effort and Dedicated.
In terms of SLAs, Best Effort services offer very limited SLAs. People usually choose Best Effort service due to its low cost and far-reaching availability. When I say limited SLA, I mean that the provider will make its “best effort” (whatever that means) to keep service up and running, but there is no guarantee in a Best Effort contract. There are ways to increase the uptime of Best Effort service. Some businesses will use two separate providers and transition from their primary service to the secondary service if the primary goes down.
Dedicated services offer stronger more comprehensive SLAs. When unplanned outages occur, there is a strong priority to get service back up. Most Dedicated service providers will guarantee a refund for downtime, so they have a monetary incentive to keep your service up and running as consistently as possible. Still, when Internet access is mission critical, it’s probably a good idea to supplement Dedicated service with an inexpensive Best Effort back up service.
The main takeaway here is that no provider can claim or deliver 100 percent uptime. There is no way to predict unexpected occurrences like power outages from a storm or a misguided backhoe, or damaged fiber. Regardless of where a problem originates or who is responsible for it, if you can’t get work done – that’s downtime. Knowing this, it becomes important to anticipate at least some level of downtime and be sure to include it in your business continuity plan. Ask your self, “Is our business prepared to deal with some downtime? And what is our strategy for minimizing the affects of downtime on business productivity?”
In my opinion, the uptime percentages listed in SLAs are far less important than the support aspect of SLAs, and the trust you have in your IT solutions provider to identify the source of problems and fix them so your business can work. If you’re interested in the most reliable overall solution, the first step is to find a reputable IT provider. Then collaborate with your provider to build a strong network on the cloud powered at a centralized data center or centers. A good IT provider will identify your businesses operational priorities and build your network to minimize downtime. They will also be intimately familiar with every aspect of the network and be willing to take responsibility for the entire process. A truly comprehensive SLA should encompass access and accountability for all issues. No provider SLA can guarantee that your business’ work will go uninterrupted 100 percent of the time, because no provider controls all of the parts, nor can they predict when one of those parts may have problems. However, a quality IT provider will help you design a reliable system and proactively prepare for and react to situations that occur anywhere on the network spectrum, regardless of the source.
If you’d like to learn more about maximizing the reliability of your IT network, give us call here at CloudWyze – we’re happy to answer your questions and provide free expert advice.
Shaun Olsen is the CEO and President of CloudWyze. CloudWyze was created to help businesses focus and perform at their optimal level by crafting and executing custom technology plans for businesses of every type and size. To learn more about CloudWyze, visit Shaun can be reached at [email protected] or 910-795-1000.

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