Most cloud storage providers pride themselves on their agility, and their ability to bring innovative cloud solutions to the market quickly. For customers, this means that the available functionality can evolve equally rapidly, and that new features are always appearing.
This agility and rapid pace of change can cause problems, however. The service that cloud storage providers offer is generally managed via a cloud storage SLA — a “service level agreement” that mandates a minimum level of service, and spells out the mechanisms that will be used to measure this service.
With cloud functionality constantly evolving, however, cloud storage SLAs can quickly fall behind. An outdated SLA can cause technical problems as well as raise legal issues.
In this guide, we’ll look at what cloud storage SLAs are, their benefits, and how to ensure that you are using a good one.
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What is a Cloud Storage SLA?
An SLA contains the minimum levels of service that a cloud storage provider is expected to provide. At a minimum, an SLA specifies levels of responsiveness to applications. It also specifies who governs when an interruption has occurred to the service, and what the penalties are if service levels haven’t been adequately met.
However, SLAs can be quite complex. The rise of the storage as a service model means that cloud service providers now offer a very wide range of services to their customers — not just raw storage volume, but also file management software, and even technical help with data migration. All of these services should be covered in an SLA, or across multiple SLAs, so that both parties are clear and open about what services are being paid for.
As we will explore below, a cloud storage SLA should also include mechanisms for monitoring performance, and spell out what will happen if minimum expectations are not met.
Benefits of a Cloud SLA
Having some sort of agreement on the services being provided is fundamental today, as more and more organizations come to rely on third-party suppliers for data storage, processing, and management.
- Drives service performance. A well-written SLA can provide a lot more than just legal assurance, however. Given that most people don’t read privacy policies, it can be tempting for organizations to regard cloud storage SLAs as just a legal nicety. In reality, the provisions contained within a well-drafted SLA don’t just spell out legal responsibilities, but can act as a powerful catalyst for driving performance and efficiency gains.
- Commitment to quality service. The best cloud storage SLAs, in fact, are truly collaborative documents that govern not just the minimum levels of service that can be expected, but also encapsulates a cloud providers’ commitment to providing a quality service, and to driving forward the range and level of service they offer to their customers.
- Clarifies your business goals. Finally, drafting a cloud storage SLA can be a useful way of understanding your business. By sitting down and taking the time to think through the size and speed of the storage you actually need, you may spot efficiencies and other business opportunities that you would have missed otherwise.
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Designing a Good Cloud SLA
Taking the time to understand your business requirements is the best place to start when designing a quality SLA. Ideally, this should also be done in consultation with your cloud storage provider, who can provide valuable input with regard to what is technically possible when it comes to providing reliable service.
The outcome of this consultation and planning phase will be a list of storage needs. These can then be worked into a series of key metrics that should be listed clearly and unambiguously in your SLA.
Each of these provisions should be easy to measure, so that there can be no argument if and when your cloud service provider doesn’t meet your minimum requirements. Most SLAs will also contain financial penalties that will be imposed if and when this occurs, or specify bonuses that will be paid for better performance.
If done correctly, you will end up with a list of metrics that reflect what your business needs from a cloud storage provider, and specify the penalties should a provider fail to meet these standards. Put this list into an SLA, and get a lawyer to make sure you are legally covered, and you are well on your way to meeting cloud storage problems, or avoiding them all together.
SLA Metrics and Measurements
Drafting and signing an SLA is only half of the story. Once an SLA is active, you will need to monitor it to ensure that your provider is adhering to the provisions you’ve mutually agreed to. In order to get the most out of your SLA, you should monitor the performance of your cloud storage provider yourself, and compile statistics that can be used to review their offer.
You can monitor service metrics through a cloud provider’s native tooling or a portal. Collecting and analyzing this data can provide you with a snapshot of how your storage infrastructure is performing, but can also provide valuable business insights. As we point out in our guide to Google cloud storage, in fact, monitoring your storage needs can act as a great proxy for the performance of your business as a whole.
Putting in place a high quality SLA is critical for any business. An SLA can help you to avoid legal difficulties, but can also be so much more — a living document that can act as a guide to business planning and development, and a powerful monitoring tool that can help you understand where your business is, and where it is going.
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