Service-Level Agreements Take Tact, Honesty

During tests of Blue Titan Software Inc.'s Network Director, one of the first things we noticed about the product's reporting capabilities is that there's no place to account for scheduled downtime.

During tests of Blue Titan Software Inc.s Network Director (see review), one of the first things we noticed about the products reporting capabilities is that theres no place to account for scheduled downtime.

At some level, this works in favor of the Web service "customer" because Blue Titans service reports will show the good, bad and ugly. Every time Blue Titan notices that a service has gone away, someone is going to get a report. This will invariably cause a flap between the business unit or tenant that is paying for a particular service level and the IT department—and likely for good reason. Most sophisticated service-level reporting tools can accommodate scheduled downtime and make sure that it isnt counted against the overall service-level numbers.

But the ability to designate "doesnt count" exclusion is almost always set up and monitored by IT. And this creates the appearance, if not the fact, of a conflict of interest. The trouble with fudging the uptime numbers by excluding nearly every occurrence of network downtime is that, eventually, someone on the business side is going to start to notice.

When that happens, theres going to be a whole lot of questions asked, questions that often dont have good answers.

Its far better, although far harder, to explain to Web services customers that a certain amount of downtime is required to maintain the system. Be ready with a few reports that show how much time is needed for likely system upgrades, especially those needed for patching systems to defend against worms and viruses. They might not like it any better, but users are more likely to accept scheduled downtime if they know about it beforehand.

Blue Titan Network Director provides a rudimentary system for billing customers for the Web services they use. If the enterprise uses the chargeback portion of Blue Titan, the issues around the service-level reporting features will likely gain increased importance almost at once. This is because there is nothing like charging departments money for service to get them to pay attention to SLAs (service-level agreements).

For this reason, we advise IT departments to take an evolutionary approach to charging departments for Web services at this time. In the case of Blue Titan Network Director, IT managers should run in pilot mode through several business events such as closing out a month or quarter or a seasonal buying spike.

The best way to get started with the system is to monitor Web services use without charging users, to get an idea of the actual usage and the amount of trouble each service encounters. As with any management system, it is imperative that IT understand what "normal" Web services activity looks like before offering any guarantees about how "abnormal" conditions will be handled. Our tests of Blue Titan Network Director showed that the product can help IT understand and manage how Web services are used in the organization.

After getting a base line understanding of Web services use and maintenance, introduce the concept of offering an SLA and appropriate chargeback billing to pay for the new utility.