Cloud Service Level Agreements Explained

Author:Mr Philip Nolan and Mark Adair
Profession:Mason Hayes & Curran

Cloud computing is the delivery of on-demand computing resources and services over the internet on a pay-for-use basis. We examine the key components of cloud service level agreements (SLAs), which govern acceptable service delivery and satisfactory customer usage of cloud computing services.

From a technology perspective, one of the key components of the European Commission's 'Europe 2020' vision is the digital economy. In 2014, a Cloud Select Industry Group sub-group published standardised guidelines for cloud computing service level agreements (SLAs) between cloud service providers and business customers. In July 2016, the SLALOM cloud computing initiative - building on this earlier work - delivered the final version of its model contractual terms and SLAs for cloud computing. SLALOM describes itself as a "major step forward for the cloud industry, promising to lower the barriers to entry for SME cloud providers and make it easier for end users to safely migrate to the cloud."

But if a supplier decides not to adopt the voluntary SLALOM terms immediately, what should a customer look out for when faced with the supplier's standard SLA? And what are the core provisions that all SLAs should define?

What is the cloud?

Cloud computing essentially involves a model of delivering technology through on-demand network access to a shared pool of computing resources. When a customer purchases cloud computing services, it is purchasing a 'virtual machine' that behaves like a physical computer, but which actually utilises resources from numerous interconnected servers. The customer in turn benefits from economies of scale and avails of lower costs in obtaining their IT services. There are different forms of cloud services - a customer may access software (SaaS), infrastructure (IaaS) or platform applications (PaaS). Cloud services can be provided through public networks, private networks or a mix of public/private networks, known as hybrid.

What is a service level?

A service level is a mechanism that defines the expectations and level of service that a cloud service supplier must meet. Service levels are usually set out in the section of a contract known as a service level agreement, or SLA, which is also sometimes known as the cloud service agreement (CSA). Think of the SLA like the ground rules for the cloud service - a robust SLA can protect the stability of the cloud service, protect the customer's access to data and minimise the expense of any...

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