Hosting providers: could SLAs be the key to the best partnership?

, Hosting providers: could SLAs be the key to the best partnership?

Jon Lucas, Co-Director at Hyve Managed Hosting, considers how businesses can manage workloads on public, private and hybrid cloud networks more effectively by having the right SLAs in place.

There can be no denying the rapid rise and ever-growing importance of public, private and hybrid cloud in the modern age. With 83% of enterprise workloads expected to be in the cloud by 2020, those responsible for the management of these workloads need to ensure that they are getting the most from their providers. The cloud market is highly competitive and businesses looking to invest need to cut through the noise and make sure their provider is speaking their language.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are one of the most important, but commonly overlooked, considerations when choosing a cloud services provider. Currently, too many companies often blindly place trust in empty promises that offer blanketed and vague SLAs. These are rarely personal, reliable or realistic and ultimately result in poor practice on both the provider’s and the customer’s part. Increasing levels of compliance for key areas such as data protection, as well as more experienced customers who are demanding better service levels, is making tailored SLAs more viable.

At their base level, SLAs act as a layer of protection for both the customer and the provider. Having SLAs in place ensures that each party knows what it can expect from the other. Having a document that clearly spells out each party’s responsibilities can act as a reference point that ensures neither side can plead ignorance in a sticky situation. The impact when SLAs don’t work properly, or are only considered when a serious service problem arises, can be detrimental.

So, what are the key considerations businesses should keep front of mind when it comes to assessing prospect hosting providers and their SLAs?

Availability and continuity

The Internet never sleeps – and neither should your business. As the world becomes increasingly connected and contactable whenever and wherever, the necessity to remain ‘always-on’ is greater than ever. It is important that your company sets its expectations for service availability from the get-go and that the provider has the infrastructure in place to be able to meet those minimum requirements. For example, if a provider offers to fix a server that is down within 20 minutes, you should be sceptical, as this would only be achievable if there were manpower and spares available on-site. If the provider you have chosen cannot realistically meet your requirements, they should offer an alternative, better suited, solution.

Security and stability

We live in tightly regulated times, yet we still hear of network and data breaches almost daily in the news. Breaches like these cost your business money and time, and ultimately risk its reputation. A hosting provider should be offering to provide regular security patching and vulnerability scanning to avoid this. If your business has large amounts of confidential data, you must warn your prospective hosting provider and they should tailor these security measures to suit your needs. Don’t let a mistake like lack of communication, on either side, mean unnecessary costs for your business.

Flexibility

Nothing stays the same for long in the world of tech, which your potential new hosting provider will understand better than anyone. Businesses drop the old and acquire the newest services at lightning speed. As a result of this, the SLAs that accompany these services must be flexible. They are living documents that need to adapt to changes either to your business’s service requirements or to the vendor’s capabilities. It is up to both parties in the relationship to ensure that SLAs are kept up-to-date, relative to developments unique to your business.

Reputation

One of the simplest ways to make a decision on choosing a hosting provider is asking for proof of their reputation. A reliable hosting provider will be proud of their SLAs and how they back them up so the key is to ask how they do this. While providers can promise a tailored service to each of their customers, you want to make sure that they are capable of meeting what they are guaranteeing. As well as asking for it outright, information on performance can be acquired in a couple of ways. Trustworthy service providers will showcase their own statistics online. Companies who are in the market for a new provider can then compare these with competitors’. As honesty is always the best policy, openness like this is a good sign.

If this information isn’t available, however, asking other companies similar to your own for feedback on their experience may prove even more useful. Society places so much trust in reviews in other sectors like travel and entertainment – why not translate that over to SLAs in service providers, too? Prepare questions to ask them based on metrics that are important to you. After all, although similar, other companies’ requirements will not be identical to your own. Building a relationship with your hosting provider will undoubtedly lead to better service; it is very easy to let down a faceless company, and much harder to let down someone you know

If it goes wrong

Unfortunately, nothing is ever perfect and there will undoubtedly be issues at some point. However, ensuring that you have set metrics from the start of your partnership with a hosting provider should make these issues a lot easier to handle. Having SLAs in place also means you can lay out what the business expects to receive from its provider in the event of an issue, including compensation in the form of refunds or service credits that can be used in the future.

The key thing to remember when considering SLAs is to think carefully and pick those that protect the most vital aspects of the service you are paying for from your provider. Trying to measure too many metrics will take a lot of time to analyse, and will create an enormous burden of data. Choosing what is most important to your company in terms of SLAs should be easy to relay from your business objectives, and figuring these out will help you in finding a hosting provider capable of translating them into SLAs. Make the SLAs fit your company, don’t make your company fit the SLAs. When you and your service provider tailor these to what’s right for your business, it can only reap benefits, both in the short and long-run for your service, your customers and your company growth.

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