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BLOG: Cloud computing and the truth about SLAs

Bernard Golden | Nov. 9, 2011
I was looking through the program for an upcoming cloud computing conference and noted a number of sessions devoted to negotiating contracts and service level agreements (SLAs) with cloud providers. Reading the session descriptions, one cannot help but draw the conclusion that carefully crafting an SLA is fundamental to successfully using cloud computing.

3. Architect your deployment for provider failure. Of course, it is possible for a cloud provider's complete infrastructure to go offline. Even though the circumstances under which this might occur are quite rare, it is within the realm of possibility. For example, the provider's entire network infrastructure could down, or the cloud provider might abruptly shut down. Far-fetched, perhaps, but both scenarios have happened with online services in the past. The solution is to extend your application's architecture across multiple providers. Despite what many vendors will proclaim, doing so is extremely challenging because the semantics of how cloud providers vary makes it difficult to design an application that can incorporate differing functionalities. Nevertheless, it is possible to implement this application architecture with sufficient planning and careful design.

What should be obvious from this discussion is that higher levels of uptime certainty require increased levels of technical complexity, which translates into increased levels of investment.

Deciding whether a given application requires this level of investment is an exercise in risk assessment. Certainly this should be an explicit exercise, in which the tradeoffs between business exposure, investment, and technical operations complexity are evaluated. It's no easy exercise, and there probably aren't any easy answers. However, doing this is much more likely to result in an acceptable outcome than an extended, though futile, SLA contract slugfest.

 

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