Three Questions to Improve Your SLAs

May 5th, 2023 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Michael Bacon, Director of Enterprise Solutions Marketing, Accedian

Enterprises use service level agreements (SLAs) to define network service requirements and guide service assurance, but there is often a disconnect between the performance customers need and the performance a provider actually delivers and reports. This misalignment isn’t trivial. In fact, enterprises can be dissatisfied with service performance even when a network provider is in full compliance with its SLAs. Why is that, and what can you do about it?

If you’re an enterprise executive or manager, there are three big questions you should focus on when evaluating existing and potential SLAs. These will help guide you in crafting SLAs that work best for your business and customers.

Question #1: Are you getting what you’re paying for from service providers?

If you don’t know the answer to this, you’re not alone. In fact, most enterprise executives have no way of knowing if their SLAs are truly effective because SLA metrics, and visibility into those metrics, are inherently limited.

For example, most SLAs promise metrics and alerts for discrete, connection-focused KPIs such as latency, packet loss and jitter, but the measurements are traditionally taken at intervals of 5 to 15 minutes. The wide sampling intervals can mask performance problems and miss issues that wreak havoc on the network—even when a problem occurs in fleeting microseconds or milliseconds. The flawed methodology ultimately dilutes SLA usefulness. SLAs are also flawed in concept, because the emphasis on discrete KPI data points does not reflect an overall service end-to-end. Further, the metrics are usually not relevant to or indicative of the end user’s quality of experience.

These limitations are not surprising, given that many of these SLAs originated years ago when networks were less complex. Today, enterprises need SLAs that cover all layers and segments in an end-to-end service – including the core network, access network, hybrid clouds and applications – and they need monitoring tools that provide complete and granular visibility into these conditions. Enterprises should be able to see the data transfer rates for key applications like Office365, WebEx, Facebook, Oracle Cloud and others, and the server response time, latency and other metrics that reveal the actual user experience for each application. Typical SLA management tools don’t have these capabilities.

Question #2: Do your SLAs reflect the requirements of your users and applications so you can run your business the way it should be run?

Talk to your customers about their performance needs and compare their requirements against the terms in your SLAs. It’s very likely that the issues that matter to your customers are not covered adequately by the monitoring solutions and SLAs you are currently using.

For example, customers notice slow page load times and connection time-outs, among other Quality of Experience (QoE) issues. These key performance indicators (KPIs) typically aren’t measured, and if they are, the problems can be caused by underlying network issues such as packet loss or excessive latency, which are often overlooked in intermittent measurements.

Use the input you gain from your customers to define better requirements in your SLAs and monitor for those. Depending on the customer, the requirements could be more stringent or more lenient than the SLA currently provides. Tailor each customer’s SLA accordingly. Better yet, use their varied expectations as an opportunity to create service categories, such as value-added VIP or basic service tiers, in your SLAs. Tiers introduce upselling options and can add a differentiator to your enterprise.

Customer-centric SLAs do require ability to provide monitoring and visibility based on the outcomes end-customers want and need. The monitoring solution must go beyond routine metrics and alerts to measure and combine precise KPIs for an entire end-to-end system for a particular service and the customer experience. The analytics must be able to correlate a specific QoE problem with an issue in the underlying infrastructure or isolate it as an application-based issue that must be repaired by the application owner and not the network.

All of this information can be summarized and displayed on a single pane of glass for your enterprise. Comprehensive insights presented on a user-friendly dashboard will help your teams make targeted decisions that expedite recovery time, boost operational efficiency and make customers happier.

Question #3: How can you present these requirements in an SLA to a service provider?

This isn’t difficult to do. Use a neutral, holistic solution to measure the performance of your network, services, applications and user experience. Compare the results against your current SLAs and service provider reports as well as the specific requirements requested by your customers. Your findings will inform and guide your SLA strategy.

Request an opportunity to meet with your service provider to discuss your SLA. Approach your service provider as a partner, not an adversary; they want a good relationship with you. Use the meeting to present your data demonstrating the need for a new and better SLA. This can be done before you sign up for an account with the provider or when your existing account and SLA are up for renewal.

Improved SLAs are better for business

Enterprises are usually unaware that limitations inherent in SLAs can diminish service assurance capabilities and the usefulness of the agreements to the business. By better understanding how SLAs work and your individual customers’ performance requirements, you can craft SLAs that are more relevant and provide tangible value to your business. A holistic, end-to-end monitoring solution can provide data and insights for negotiating an effective SLA with your service provider. The process will help you improve network performance, better serve customers, optimize costs and even generate more revenue.

About the author

As the director of enterprise solutions marketing, Michael is responsible for developing and implementing Accedian’s marketing strategy across the enterprise and communications service provider sectors globally, in alignment with both short- and long-term business goals. To this role he brings a diverse set of career experience, spanning marketing, product management, business development, and software development, with a focus on cybersecurity and network operations. He also has several years of experience with managed security providers, software retailers, banking & finance, and healthcare. Michael holds a master’s degree in business management from University of Phoenix. 

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