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How to make a network SLA work for your organization

What's the best way to focus on outcomes and construct a network SLA that reflects end-to-end service performance?

Enterprises have long sought out service-level agreements that will keep their providers on task in delivering services that meet their performance requirements.  No business wants the credits that are offered when a service falls short of network SLA metrics. Instead, IT organizations look to a network SLA as a standard that reassures them when they first enter contracts with their providers, and then as an ongoing measure that the managed services they are consuming are sufficiently supporting their operational objectives.

Where SLAs have traditionally fallen short is in providing a full end-to-end view of service performance.  Conventionally, a network SLA typically focused on discrete elements of service delivery -- for example, packet loss, latency, jitter, availability and so on. While these individual elements are all important to overall performance, as discrete metrics, they cannot provide a completely accurate assessment of service quality. Additionally, these metrics do not contextualize how the service performance is helping the business accomplish corporate objectives.

Over time, as Telcos have expanded their service catalogs to include more complex, strategically managed services in areas like cloud connectivity, they have revisited their SLA constructs. Customers looking for more descriptive and accurate measures of service performance are pressing providers to provide SLAs that map better to the underlying business processes the services support.

In response to this demand, telecom providers are moving from relying solely on component-level metrics to more end-to-end SLAs. These SLAs are compiled by measuring the performance of a number of service components -- often compiled from multiple services that support specific operations, such as an online credit card transaction processing system. 

The ultimate goal is to a model where the provider can accurately demonstrate how the managed services it is delivering are supporting the business outcomes the client desires. This is an ambitious goal. Not only does the provider have to measure each component of each service, it must also define the bottom-line outcome compiled from all the individual elements.

Further complicating this, some of the services associated with a particular business operation or process may actually be delivered by a partner. This means the provider may not have visibility into all the elements of that service.

While providers may not have reached their eventual objective of putting the network service performance into business context, they are delivering much better end-to-end SLAs. These give business customers a much better -- and more accurate -- picture of true service performance.

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This was last published in March 2017

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