Just say NO to SLAs

Most of you who’ve either purchased or delivered cloud services have been asked for an SLA (Service Level Agreement). I’ve seen SLAs that can be measured on inches of paper.  Why so big?

Just consider getting 10 people in a room and trying to write down the definition of what it means for an application to be down:

  • Do you mean a partial outage?
  • What if only one iPad can access the application, is the application up?
  • What if it’s down for one minute in the middle of the night? Is it down?

Now let’s imagine adding our lawyer friends into the mix to write in English our definition of application outage, and then discuss the terms of a penalty payment. If you do this, you’ll quickly see the contract getting thicker and thicker.

SLAs are an anachronism. They come from the day of companies using Model 3 and outsourcing. This means handing over all of your computers and staff to another company, so they can take over your mess and do it for less.

So if You Say No to SLAs Then What?

As a provider of cloud services, you’ll need to start providing information on your application, compute, storage, software development or operations management cloud service. You’ll need to define your availability, security, performance and change management in terms of features.

For instance, in terms of availability, as a purchaser, I can now see how many outages occurred last year, last month, last minute, and see what your average time to recovery, maximum and minimum recovery times last month and last year. And hopefully I’ll see your availability and performance improving.

You can do the same thing with security, As I discussed in a previous Cisco blog Security-as-a-Feature, we should move to treat security as a feature and be able to display the time from receipt of a security patch until it’s placed into production. Again, show the time last month and last year.

Now I as a purchaser of your cloud service can decide if these features are good enough to meet my needs, or if I need to find a different supplier who has a faster, more secure and/or more available service.

Customer Support or Customer Service

As a provider of cloud services, let’s take this up another level and consider what you mean by customer support or customer service.  If service is the delivery of personal and relevant information, then who is your customer and what information would be personal and relevant?

Most of you view customer service in a “bronze, silver, gold, or platinum” way. This means I will guarantee to you, the buyer of the service, that 24×7 I’ll answer the phone quickly (or not so quickly). Of course, you can replace the phone with email or chat.

But consider that even conventional software support, the source of large maintenance revenue streams for Model 1 software companies, is actually not break-fix, but information delivery. In 2003, Oracle Support did an analysis of 100,000,000+ support requests from phones, email, etc. The result may surprise some of you:

99.9% of the requests were satisfied with known information.  It wasn’t break-fix, bugs, etc. that dominated, but the delivery of information.

In the age of cloud computing, customer service should be about me, the provider of cloud services, delivering personal and relevant security, performance, availability and change management information to the many “you-s” within a customer.

And as a consumer of cloud services, stop asking for SLAs and start asking for information that is personal and relevant to you.

For a deeper dive into this topic, consider viewing my book Cloud Computing: Operation Efficiency, where I devote an entire chapter to customer service.

Thank You

With that, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read one or move of my Cisco blogs. In these blogs, I hope I was able to expand your thinking around cloud computing on: cloud migration, software business models (part 1 and 2), enterprise cloud adoption, ISV business models, ISV channel partners and security.

If you’d like to continue the dialog with me, consider:

  • Following me on twitter @timothychou
  • Purchasing a subscription to my cloud computing trilogy in the Cloudbook format. This will help keep you up to date on the topic, as I evolve my thinking (for instance, add new chapters) and subsequently update my trilogy Cloudbooks. With the Cloudbook format, you will receive all my updates automatically.



Timothy Chou

Lecturer at Stanford University