NaviSite Navigates Service-Level Agreements

Expanding in an arena now fraught with management and accountability issues, managed application hoster NaviSite Inc. this week will unveil two new types of SLAs (service-level agreements) for its dot-com, ASP (application service provider), and enterprise customers.

In 90 days, CMGI Inc.-owned NaviSite will roll out Application Availability SLA and Help Desk SLA, which are designed to guarantee uptime of all components that affect customer Web site availability as well as prompt service problem notification and resolution, said George Khater, director of strategic projects at NaviSite, in Andover, Mass.

And yet the fact that Availability SLA does not guarantee application performance underscores a now-percolating issue around SLAs: Just which party in the ASP chain is responsible for reimbursing the customer when service fails.

"In a lot of cases, in terms of going out and negotiating a [SLA] contract, a lot of these [credit issues] weren't discussed up-front," said NaviSite customer K.C. Choi, CTO of Irvine, Calif.-based Senior.com. "They were last-minute, and in a lot of cases they weren't clear-cut. That goes back to accountability."

By definition, an SLA is a commitment, usually in writing, agreed on between a service provider and customer that specifies services to be supplied and the standards to which the service provider must meet the delivery of those services.

In the ASP-oriented SLA system, an ASP infrastructure provider adheres to its SLA with the ASP to manage and monitor all hardware, network, and operating system issues. In turn, the ASP provides the customer renting the software with a separate SLA specific to application troubleshooting.

Because ASPs depend on multiple relationships to provide users with expected performance levels, SLAs are becoming more intersected and complicated to manage, said Tom Robinson, president and COO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based MySLA Inc.

Robinson said vendors must shift from a traditional mind-set of following event management and focus on multiple relationship management to keep SLAs up-to-date.

Because the drivers of e-commerce are so unpredictable, customers should build flexibility and short-term agreements into SLAs that can later be modified, said Keniko Barney, director of e-business infrastructure and services at Cahners In-Stat Group, a research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.

SLA relationships can be sticky, particularly when it comes to agreeing on mutual downtime "windows" of nonservice, said Corio customer Don Jennings, director of enterprise applications at Redwood City, Calif., logo procurement vendor MadeToOrder.com Inc.

"The customer's understanding and ASP's understating of what you're trying to hit has the potential to be different," Jennings said.

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