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Home > iSGTW 09 January 2008 > iSGTW Feature - And they computed happily ever after: Service Level Agreements for a happy IT marriage

 

Feature - And they computed happily ever after: Service Level Agreements for a happy IT marriage


Clear communication and agreed expectations make for happy relationships, which is where service level agreements come in. SLAs provide each party with a clear idea of what they are expected to do and how, clarifying any previously gray areas.
Stock image from sxc.hu

Who will take out the garbage? How will problems be handled? From where will the toothpaste be squeezed? Counselors advise engaged couples to discuss in advance what each partner expects of the other.

Good relationships between IT service providers and users can also benefit from the same principle: clear communication.

EGEE’s IT pre-nup

Last month the IT equivalent of a prenuptial agreement for Europe’s largest grid computing project—Enabling Grids for E-sciencE—was presented to the Project Execution Board.

EGEE’s service level description, or SLD, defines the standards to which EGEE grid sites running gLite middleware and EGEE Regional Operating Centers should perform, and the ROCs are now being encouraged to start the process of signing agreements with their sites.

The main ideas of the SLD are based on the pilot SLA developed within the SEE-GRID-2 project, where it is already deployed and tested in production mode.

The SEE-GRID-2 SLA and EGEE SLD differ from SLAs generally seen in industry. They apply to the broader level of operations and do not outline penalties for breaches in performance. Instead, they are chiefly concerned with defining how things are done.

“Production grid infrastructures are relatively new,” says Ioannis Liabotis, the coordinator for EGEE’s SLA working group. “We want to improve the quality of the infrastructure as seen by the generic grid users by providing some specific metrics and responsibilities, so people know what they have to do and how to do it.”

The benefits, says Liabotis, are clear: “It reduces miscommunication. And it’s much better for users—they have a more available grid.”

Results from a pilot SLA program, SEE-GRID-2, show that sites conforming to their SLA 90 percent of the time had increased their availability by more than 50 percent by the third quarter.
Images courtesy of SEE-GRID-2

Reduced downtime on the up 

John Shade, a member of the working group based at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, says that SLA agreements can prompt grid sites to think more about optimizing their service to users. For example, he says, a primary goal of the document is to reduce downtime.

“Some sites would announce downtime more or less when they felt like it,” says Shade. “And, to be on the safe side, they might be down for a whole day. Some downtime is a necessity, of course, but with planning, it can be kept to a minimum.”

The new SLA defines indicators of performance from each site. Each month information collected from monitoring programs like SAM will be automatically compiled to rank each site based on its availability.

“Sites will be ranked relatively,” says Shade. “We will see which perform well and which could improve.”

Shade says the prestige associated with performing well will encourage sites to improve their service levels, without the threat of penalties.

This agreement is ultimately focused on benefiting users and is expected to be in constant evolution as areas for improvement are seen or user needs change. Future SLAs may be stricter or there might be unique SLAs for certain virtual organizations. But for now, the team are simply looking forward to seeing services improve.

“That,” says Shade “is what will make it all worthwhile.”

- Danielle Venton, EGEE 

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