Monday, October 24, 2011

The Cloud± Service level agreements

Most discussions about cloud computing center on technology, software, or whatever exciting new service happens to be in the spotlight, but a lot of the times people forget about one of the most basic elements of the cloud: service level agreements. How will it perform?

Moving to the cloud means you're buying an outsourced service. Therefore, looking at computing from a service perspective, the first concern on the minds of both customers and companies should be the service level agreement, as well as the components of the service and it's fancy technological elements.

If you think of entering a cloud computing agreement in the same terms as entering a relationship. Before the cloud, customers and companies had a long distance fairly remote relationships, with only the occasional brief but passionate encounters, normally at the deployment stage, followed by long periods of waiting for new events; patches and updated versions.

Whereas, on the cloud, everyone is living together, in a symbiotic way, with no time apart. In this model, the most important thing is to avoid clashes and annoying others so much that they move out.

The service level agreement has always been the key to this. Establishing the ground rules, so everyone knows what may or may not be done and including, what level of annoyance each party will tolerate.

Availability

An important thing to realise is that the perception of quality in a service is relative to the needs of customers. I don’t mind if the electricity doesn’t work in my home while I am at work, but if the power goes out when I am sitting down to watch some TV, I will hate the power company.

The same goes for cloud services. If you give 99% availability, but the 1% failure always happens in the middle of the business day, customers will quickly abandon your service, despite it being within the agreed level.

The flip side of this coin is that most of us don’t really need that 99.995% availability; we need 100% availability whenever we decide to use the service. Since most usage habits are pretty predictable, a company offering a cloud service (especially software) can optimise itself so that offline periods fall outside peak usage times.

The cloud enables companies to easily and closely monitor usage patterns, so if you find out that people only use your cloud-based solution on the first five business days of each month during business hours (this could be a payroll application, for instance), you better make sure that your servers can handle the peak load and that you have round-the-clock support during this time.

At the same time, you can probably save money (and pass these savings on to clients) by reducing your capacity and having less support people the rest of the month.

Performance transparency

Another very important thing to remember is that a service level agreement is only as useful as the capacity of the user to monitor it. Transparency is key here.

If you are using a service, any service, you must have a simple way not only of checking if the service is online or offline (like flipping a switch to check if the power is on), but also to monitor whatever metric was established on the agreement.

If you are building a cloud service, remember to include a “control panel” so that your customers, the press, a regulator or ombudsman and even the competition can quickly see your status.

Remember always that transparency creates trust and tolerance: the most stressful thing about a traffic jam is not knowing what is going on and for how long it stretches.

So, if you are building a cloud service, or moving your company’s existing software to the cloud: think first about the service level your customers want and think again as to what you can offer, and from that you can build your new service.

Don’t simply say, “I’m on the cloud, I’ll be available 24×7″ and avoid frustrations on both sides. If you are purchasing a cloud service, make sure that you are not demanding nor paying for more availability than you actually need.

Good Luck, and I hope it will be silver linings all the way!

1 comment:

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