Letâ€™s continue the discussion about cloud computing with some thoughts about quality of service in cloud vendors, and what prospective cloud customers might consider when choosing those cloud vendors. As Iâ€™ve said before, most organizationsâ€™ main reason for even considering the cloud lies mainly in hopes of saving a buck or two million. Of course, money talksâ€”heck, it shoutsâ€”and so for many, the query, â€śShould we go to the cloud?â€ť is question one. Since unintentionally becoming something of the poster child for â€ścloudnosticism,â€ť Iâ€™ve gotten a flood of email from people saying, â€śHelp me tell the boss why the cloud isnâ€™t the all-saving panacea that the marketing folks and all of those journalists are suggesting it is,â€ť and basically my answer is service.
Remind the boss about the other cloud services that he/she uses, and ask how he/she perceives their level of quality. When your cable, electricity, telephone or Internet service goes out and youâ€™ve got to interact with your service provider, how has your customer experience been? Did you get to talk to a human? How many times did you have to say â€śyesâ€ť clearly and distinctly before your utilityâ€™s automated call director (ACD) system understood that you said â€śyesâ€ť and not â€śno?â€ť How many times were you put on hold and then accidentally disconnected? Have you gotten that corporate jingle out of your head yet? When you finally got some help, how many hours did they say that youâ€™d be waiting for a resolution?
If you answered at least one of those questions with a rueful nod, then imagine how the boss will feel when the companyâ€™s hosted Exchange server decides to take a couple of hours off some Tuesday mid-afternoon. (I recommend preparing for that day by practicing facial expressions in the mirror. Get good at an empathic â€śyes, I share your pain and sympathize entirelyâ€ť look so that your naturally-occurring â€śI TOLD you so!â€ť ear-to-ear grin doesnâ€™t pop out.)
Seriously, letâ€™s say that your organization decides to go to the cloud. You know there will be outagesâ€”if Microsoft and Google canâ€™t avoid downtime, Iâ€™m not sure that anyone canâ€”and unless youâ€™re one of the cloud vendorâ€™s five largest customers, you know that youâ€™re going to get a cordially worded, â€śWeâ€™ll fix it when we FIX it!â€ť recorded answer from the cloud vendor when the system is down because hey, thatâ€™s capitalism. Even if weâ€™re a vendorâ€™s smallest customer, though, we hate the idea of being at their mercy. So take the time to negotiate a decent service level agreement (SLA), and itâ€™s best to do that before you sign up for a piece of the cloud.
SLAs are a seemingly-wonderful idea, a contractual promise of reliability. â€śUpon receipt of a customer trouble ticket, Bigfirm Cloud Enterprises will resolve the customer issue within two hours ofâ€¦â€ť Or there are theâ€śnines,â€ť as in three, four, or five ninesâ€™ reliability. In case youâ€™ve never done the math on that, those three translate to no more than nine hours, one hour, or six minutes of annual downtime, respectively. After the jump, let's look at a few SLA considerations.
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First, consider your current quality of serviceâ€”how did you score on reliability these past couple of years? Iâ€™ve already discussed the importance of knowing your current quality of service in other articles, so I wonâ€™t belabor the point further. But, in short, itâ€™s silly to start insisting on some number of nines if you have no idea what â€śnine regimeâ€ť you currently live in.
Second, look for and be wary about unrealistic SLAs. Last year, my email server was down for about 30 cumulative minutes for Windows Update rebootsâ€”hurray for me, four nines!â€”but a flood that put eight inches of water on my road led to being without Internet for two days, blotting my reputation to a mere two nines. Bummer. There really is no other way to get high-speed Internet in the rural area where I live and where my email server is physically located, and given that we get outage-creating floods, ice storms, or hurricanes every other year or so, then it wouldnâ€™t be very reasonable to promise more than 99 percent uptime, if I was a cloud vendor. If I was a mildly unethical cloud vendor, however, I might offer 99.99 percent uptime in conjunction with a bit of fine print about â€śnot subject to acts of Godâ€ť or something like that. Notice, however, that most people looking at a proposed SLA with an Act of God provision would think, â€śhey, thatâ€™s reasonable, stuff happensâ€ť when in fact it would not be reasonable in my case, as you could say that God is a mite more â€śAct-iveâ€ť in my area. Ask the vendor, where are your data centers? Whatâ€™s the weather like there? Who provides their Internet backbone, and whatâ€™s their reliability level? A data center thatâ€™s up 99.9999 percent of the time is of no value if itâ€™s connected to the Internet via Bobâ€™s Tae Kwan Do Studio, Bowling Alley and ISP, Inc.
Third, make the penalties and method of restitution very clear and fair. My guess is that losing your Exchange server for two hours would be extremely annoying but not life-threatening to most businesses, but two days of downtime could easily lead to loss of a client or two, a missed opportunity or the like. Again, the whole point of going to the cloud is to save money, not lose it, so donâ€™t be afraid to put some sharp teeth in the SLA and, if you canâ€™t get those teeth, then give the cloud a miss altogether. Your SLA must establish the fact that depriving you of your IT services is the most expensive alternative that your cloud vendor faces in a disaster. Cloud vendors must see depriving you of your email as a larger disaster than a tsunami.
Finally, ask yourself: what will you do if the vendor doesnâ€™t live up to their end of the bargain? Ensure that they canâ€™t essentially hold you hostage. Think like youâ€™re creating a disaster recovery planâ€”build a step-by-step, well-tested set of procedures to let you move your stuff off the cloud and back on-site in the minimum time possible. And while youâ€™re at it, spend some time looking at the costs of de-clouding, and keep the number in mind when totting up a cloud solutionâ€™s purported savings. In both business and life in general, itâ€™s never a bad idea to keep an eye on the exits and to know how far away they are!
Trusting your organizationâ€™s lifebloodâ€”its informationâ€”to a contract vendor is nothing to take lightly. When negotiating the terms of cloud services, itâ€™s not a time for toothless SLAs. A good SLA ensures that it is your cloud vendor and not you who loses the most sleep over your data and your ability to access it.
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