Making Cloud SLAs readily usable in the EU private sector

Updates & Amendments

This phase includes updated or otherwise amended needs, goals and assumptions by the Cloud Service Customer during the term of the ongoing cloud services arrangements, as well as improved or added cloud services by the CSP there under. It also includes optimisation of the respective cloud services by CSP as per (contractual or other) non-compliance, breaches and other incidents during that term.

It is important that Cloud Service Customers carefully check how updates and amendments to their contract are made. We have sourced the following examples from real Cloud Service Providers related to these aspects.

"To the Service Offerings. We may change, discontinue, or deprecate any of the Service Offerings (including the Service Offerings as a whole) or change or remove features or functionality of the Service Offerings from time to time. We will notify you of any material change to or discontinuation of the Service Offerings".

Very few of the Cloud Service Providers analysed give advanced warnings of changes to the Agreement. For example:

"We reserve the right and entitlement to alter the Agreement at any time. We will notify you in accordance with the Agreement at least thirty (30) days prior to any alterations becoming valid and binding."

Most Cloud Service Providers reserve the right to change prices at any time, and leave it up to the Cloud Service Customers to monitor any changes that may take place. For example:

"We reserve the right to change our prices at any time. Definitive pricing is available through the control panel at the time of purchase, and supersedes any information given here. Special offers may be subject to additional conditions. All prices are exclusive of VAT which will be added at the applicable rate. All services are offered subject to our terms and conditions."

The typical financial compensation offered for not meeting SLAs is close to nothing. A credit service is the only way to make a claim and the terms and conditions are set by the Cloud Service Provider. There is no money credit and the Cloud Service Customer is tied to the Cloud Service Provider when obtaining compensation. For example:

"In order for CSP X to consider a Claim, Customer must submit the Claim to Customer Support within two months of the end of the billing month in which the Incident that is subject of the Claim occurs. Customer must provide to Customer Support all information necessary for CSP X to validate the Claim, including but not limited to detailed descriptions of the incident, the time and duration of the Incident, the affected resources or operations, and any attempts made by Customer to resolve the Incident."

"We will be the sole arbiter regarding the award of credit and our decision will be final and binding."

Gartner has also highlighted several issues related to monitoring costs and reduced benefits such as flexibility and cost savings. Cloud Service Customers that are not be up-to-speed on how to monitor the cost of the cloud services risk incurring costs that had not anticipated. Gartner has reported on one Cloud Service Customer case where billing was unexpectedly high without the company concerned knowing if the bill was accurate or how the costs had been incurred. The case shows that handing over IT operations to a third party presents difficulties in knowing how to use the new service and the need to manage costs properly.

Gartner sees is also as a symptom of the growing popularity of cloud services, but also points out a number of mistakes made by the Cloud Service Customer, such as not budgeting for several IT projects it had started; it did not shut down cloud instances that were not needed; and it did not adequately monitor the cloud services it was using. However, Cloud Service Providers could also do more to facilitate the Cloud Service Customer in understanding the bill, where every transaction or service (e.g. data transfers, storage, alerts) gets a line, by highlighting tools they offer, and by making sure the Cloud Service Customer has set up alerts if it overspends.

To overcome similar problems, Gartner advises Cloud Service Customers to use the following strategy for managing and tracking the cost of cloud-based services. Tagging resources so Cloud Service Customers can query or organise items using the tags as filters (most Cloud Service Providers support tagging but tags are not set by default). Creating a forecast to help track the cost of the services (most CPSs have a cost calculator but this tool is only as accurate as the data the Cloud Service Customer provides and many may not know how many resources they will consume). Optimising cloud use by picking the right instance type and turn off instances not using and not returning value to the business.

While there are many tools on the market, not all of them work across different Cloud Service Providers. Because we do not know what Cloud Service Providers will use in the future, Cloud Service Customers are advised to plan for solutions that help expand its cloud journey.