Service Level Agreements: Your shoes should not tell your feet how to grow

Written by Kip Ng, Principal Premier Field Engineer

Service Level Agreements: Your shoes should not tell your feet how to growEveryone knows that your shoes should conform to the shape of your feet. Likewise, in IT, the design and architecture of a system should be dictated by a well-defined set of business requirements.

As a Microsoft Certified Architect and Master, I have sadly come across a lot of environments where I believe the design was derived by IT instead of by the business. For example, I’ve seen huge financial institutes spending tons of money on designing their systems without a set of well-defined and reasonable business requirements.

Step One: ask yourself “Is there a Service Level Agreement?”

You may be surprised at how many companies I came across that do not have a well-defined Service Level Agreement (SLA). Now, what constitutes and effective SLA is itself a topic worthy of one or more articles in and of itself.

Do you have an effective SLA?  This is probably one of the most important questions to ask because everything starts from here. For instance, if I don’t have a SLA, why do I even bother to back up the environment or have any disaster recovery plan or implement any monitoring in my environment? Your SLA will help define the amount of investment you need to put into your IT infrastructure. For example, does your infrastructure need an expensive SAN, or cheap DAS, or clustering, or network load balancing, or just a single server.

Step Two: Is the SLA reasonable?

Another thing to think about is having a reasonable SLA. I’ve come across a few customers who told me their SLA is simple: 100% uptime. While I like the simplicity of this requirement, it’s likely unreasonable and/or not feasible. Imagine if you tell Ford you want to buy a car that will NEVER break down, EVER. What do you think they’ll say?

Remember that First comes First

In short, you need to determine the business criticality of the system that you are designing, and from there define the business requirements of the system’s SLA. The SLA will determine how much money you want to spend in this IT investment. It will also help you to determine how truly critical the system is and if it’s worth the price to implement it and maintain it. If you can reasonably define these things you are already half way through to a good architecture .

Remember: Your shoes should not tell your feet how to grow. On the contrary, you need to first determine what you need and the type of feet you have before you buy a pair of shoes. You get the idea.