Backup SLAs: The art of diplomacy


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The four parts of a service provider model
There are four essential elements to the creation of a service provider model for IT:

Service. A service focus separates the "what" from the "how," giving IT the latitude necessary to make architecture decisions while ensuring the business gets the service it needs. A service-level agreement between IT and technology users provides a pragmatic basis for aligning IT capabilities with business objectives.

Standards. Standard services are critical for the scalability and supportability of an IT environment. A stratification of service offerings allows different service-level

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requirements to be satisfied at appropriate cost levels.

Practices. Mature management practices (that include the processes, policies and organizational model) are critical in creating a dependable service. As processes mature, they become repeatable, documented and measured, and are continuously reviewed for improvement.

Metrics. External and internal metrics define the progress of the service model. These metrics can be used to develop a cost model to help business units understand the true cost of service delivery.

Let users know what's happening
Once the business unit signs off on the SLA, IT must meet the objectives laid out. This will often require some reengineering and reconfiguration, especially when the service is introduced. But as noted earlier, an equally important element is determining key metrics and reporting the success of the service.

The best advice I was ever given as an IT infrastructure manager was to proactively create metrics to show the world how well everything was working. This feedback is critical to creating a lasting partnership between IT and the rest of the business. Once again, feedback to the business units doesn't have to be more than a few plain-spoken, easily understandable metrics--reserve the technical jargon for consumption by IT staff. While a backup system operator will be keenly interested in call turnaround, escalation time, job success rates and the rest, your customers only care that the service is working.

Remember, backup is out of the critical path and issues can be swept under the rug. This makes proactive reporting even more critical--unless everyone is constantly made aware of the backup system, lingering issues can become critical service lapses.

One exception to the simple feedback metrics proposed here is when a restore is requested. Instead of merely bringing the data back, accompany it with a report showing how the request was handled, as well as some details on the data. Your customers will want to know the date and time of the recovery source and may need an explanation as to why they had to wait for their data, especially if it stretches into a multiday process.

This was first published in September 2006

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