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Sidestep problems, be your own cloud SLA watchdog

A service-level agreement is a vital piece to your cloud puzzle, so understanding what to expect is paramount. What goes into a typical cloud SLA?

Is there a template to follow for a typical cloud service-level agreement?

It's important to understand your expectations of your cloud provider and come to a set of agreeable terms in a service-level agreement, your contract with your vendor. But what should go into a cloud SLA? Fortunately, there are a number of resources to help.

When planning to purchase cloud services from a provider, there are many features and parameters to discuss beforehand. Your cloud service-level agreement (SLA) should specify minimum levels of performance for each service, codified with specific parameters. Consider the requirements to document an outage and how long you have to submit a claim. It's vital to understand outage documentation procedures before using any cloud service. You wouldn't want to be running a cloud application and have an outage, only to realize you should have been running a more detailed log level.

It may seem obvious, but clearly state that you maintain ownership of your data and have a right to get it back. There are a number of document procedures that should be available, including downloading data using Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) or having data shipped to you on a disk or other media for dealing with large volumes.

Cloud SLAs should also include specifications for data security, cloud governance and the ability to audit a provider's compliance -- or at least have access to their audit reports written by a trusted third party.

For companies looking for comprehensive SLA templates, a good place to begin is with Thomas Trappler's "If It's in the Cloud, Get It on Paper: Cloud Computing Contract Issues." Trappler is the director of software licensing at UCLA as well as an instructor and adviser on cloud computing contracting issues. His tutorial covers key topics such as the basic elements of a service-level agreement, SLA parameters, definitions you should know and remedies for any issues that arise. It also delves into topics you may not think about, such as the location of data and vendor outsourcing.

IBM DeveloperWorks also has a paper that is worth consulting, "Best Practices to Develop SLAs for Cloud Computing." If you have time for a longer report, review the European Commission's report on Cloud Computing Service Level Agreements.

About the author:
Dan Sullivan holds a Master of Science degree and is an author, systems architect and consultant with more than 20 years of IT experience. He has had engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail and education. Dan has written extensively about topics that range from data warehousing, cloud computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration and text mining.

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Part of the challenge with the current form of compute as a utility is measuring true performance and optimizing your spend. The "cloud" is different than its predecessors. While the concept of having someone else provide the computing power or application to your users is old hat, the technology underlying the delivery of these services is much more advanced. Our ability to see into the cloud and truly meter the performance we are getting and the true cost of the service is limited by the tools we have today. There is new research that shows the same machines provisioned on the top three cloud service providers will deliver different performance for the identical workload. Moreover, the variance occurs within providers! Without advanced monitoring tools and methods of control, we can easily be fooled into thinking we are getting the promised SLA, measured by conventional means.