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How to get the best desktop support SLA bang for your buck

IT can save money on its desktop service-level agreements by mixing and matching the level of support to meet the importance of the device.

When it comes to PC lifecycle management, the optimal way for IT professionals to keep support costs down without user downtime going up is to understand the service-level agreement that works best for their organization.

A service-level agreement (SLA) is an arrangement between the service provider and IT that the service provider will deliver a certain level of support based on specific parameters, such as the severity and frequency of a problem, as well as the time of day when the problem occurs. An SLA is essentially a health or life insurance policy for computers, and there are various SLA options IT pros can choose from.

A typical desktop support SLA that a service provider offers will fall into one of two categories: response time agreements and repair time agreements.

Response time agreements vs. repair time agreements

A response time desktop support SLA guarantees the specific length of time it will take a technician to respond to the person who made the request. Contact is usually by phone, but it can also be by email or another means of communication. In-person follow up visits are also common.

Response time service-level agreements do not guarantee when the service provider will actually complete the repair, however. IT pros should note what their contract says in terms of response method and options.

Typical response time desktop support SLA terms include:

  • four-hour response, 24/7;
  • eight-hour response, 24/7; and
  • next-day response during business hours -- nine to five.

There is a significant cost difference between a four-hour response and a next-day response.

A repair time desktop response SLA guarantees that the service provider will finish a repair within a given period of time. Because IT can generally replace PCs and desktops quickly with spares, or can reimage the devices themselves rather than logging a service call, repair time agreements are usually reserved for business-critical devices, such as servers hosting virtual machines or databases.

Split the SLA to cut costs

The trick to cutting support costs is to match the desktop support SLA to the importance of specific equipment.

Many organizations will buy a 24/7, four-hour response contract for all their devices even though only a few really need it. A four-hour response contract is really only appropriate in instances where a device failure will prevent multiple users from doing their jobs, or if an outage will take down an online service or resource, hurting revenue.

IT should perform a support analysis of its organization to determine the importance of each device. If a financial company has laptops for its traders on the exchange floor, for example, the traders' laptops will require a higher SLA than the office staff's equipment.

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If IT pros can replace and reimage PCs and laptops in a matter of hours, that is much cheaper than paying a technician to drive to the site and repair it. As a result, IT workers should have some hot spares available on site, or some that they can send overnight.

A split SLA enables admins to pay for high-level support on a small percentage of devices and lower levels of support on less critical devices.

Hot spares should enable an IT pro to easily load the image, restore the user's files and get him back online with only a few hours of downtime. If IT workers pair hot spares with a next-day support agreement, it can save some money without causing too much downtime.

A split SLA enables admins to pay for high-level support on a small percentage of devices and lower levels of support on less critical devices. The service levels are generally defined as follows:

Level 1: Downtime cannot be tolerated and the device must be online as quickly as possible. This could be the equipment of a critical user or a PC that runs lab equipment. These devices affect many users or revenue directly.

Level 2: IT must have the machine restored by the next day.

Level 3: If the machine fails, it's an inconvenience for one user, and IT can restore that user's productivity with a hot spare or imaging.

SLA Level

% of total devices this level applies to


Level 1


24/7, 4-hour response

Level 2


24/7, next-day response

Level 3


9x5, next-day response

The table above breaks down a typical organization in terms of the percentage of devices that fall into each category, as well as the desktop support SLA IT should pick. IT pros must pick an SLA that matches their specific needs and embrace the concept of split SLAs.

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