SLAs are just 'marketing fodder,' says provider exec

SLAs have to become simpler more proactive before they can be taken seriously

Service-level agreements, as currently defined, are of little use to enterprises, a service provider said at a conference in New York this week.

"SLAs are nothing more than marketing fodder," said Brett Theiss, director of product management at New Edge Networks during his keynote presentation at the Future-Net conference. "It's a way to differentiate one company from another."

New Edge is owned by ISP EarthLink.

Theiss made his remarks while discussing the changing relationships between service providers and enterprise customers. Convergence and application awareness are causing "paradigm shifts" to the traditional carrier offerings and approaches, and in customer expectations from their providers.

It was within this context that Theiss claimed current SLA definitions must change as well.

"My favorite is latency," Theiss said, referring to how service providers try to outdo each other with lower latency numbers once a target is disclosed. "It goes from 40, to 39 to 35 [milliseconds]. . . .That's faster! Not really."

"All I'm telling you is on average, this is how my network will perform," Theiss said. "You could have an outage and not receive credit for it."

"I've written some doosies in the past," Theiss said, comparing service provider SLA guarantees to a person who has to come to terms with personal issues. "We have a problem."

Just as convergence and application awareness are changing the nature of telecom service procurement and provider business models, SLAs also have to become simpler more proactive, Theiss said.

Part of this entails the establishment of mutual trust between service provider and enterprise customer, Theiss said.

"Why should you jump through hoops to get a credit because we messed up?" Theiss asked his audience. "We have to take on more responsibility and give you more visibility. Otherwise, a pipe is a pipe and we're back to commodity speeds and feeds, a race to the bottom."

The trust issue is key as workforces become more distributed with remote offices and telecommuting, Theiss said. A service provider can provide more professional services behind the commodity bandwidth sale -- such as coordination, installation, consultation and call center support -- if the enterprise entrusts the telecom requirements of the distributed workforce to the provider.

"EarthLink has it figured out on the consumer side," Theiss said. "We have to implement it on the small-business side. We're just starting to scratch the surface on how huge this distributed workforce will be."

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