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How ITSM can help CIOs drive SLAs in a multi-cloud environment

How do CIOs drive service level agreements (SLAs) in a multi-cloud environment? That’s an important question when at issue is an end-to-end IT service involving many cloud providers, and the goal is to provide users with a seamless — and consistent — customer experience.

Andy Sealock, managing director of the sourcing advisory Pace Harmon, said the answer will be familiar to any CIO who has used a multi-vendor outsourcing strategy:  Namely, keep your IT service management (ITSM) program in-house and use that governance framework to drive standardized SLAs.

Back in BC (before cloud) times, tapping multiple “best-of-breed” vendors to provide IT services came to be regarded as better than doing a mega deal with a single vendor. Better for the IT department and better for the business. “You wanted to be able to send your service desk to the best service provider, your data center to the best data center provide, your network to the best network provider,” Sealock said. The one caution for CIOs in these multi-vendor IT service deals: Do not outsource accountability.

The case for ITSM in a multi-cloud environment

Indeed, a multi-vendor outsourcing strategy only worked well for CIOs whose IT organizations had standardized ITSM processes, Sealock said. Successful organizations hardened SLAs by insisting that each of the different vendors plug into and comply with their internal ITSM processes.

A multi-cloud environment replaces that outsourcing strategy.

“Now you have a SaaS solution over here, you’re using IaaS from AWS and Microsoft Azure to do compute — and a host of other point solutions out there: Commvault for back up in the cloud and somebody else for unified communications as a service, and somebody else for disaster recovery as a service,” Sealock said.

“You need to use your ITSM process to stitch these different point solutions together, so you can provide an end-to-end-service to your users,” he said.

By relying on their IT organization’s ITSM processes, CIOs can give their users SLAs for a service, even though each of the different cloud providers has different metrics, e.g. an availability level  of five-9s, or four-9s, or three-9s.

Multi-cloud environment SLAs: It’s not about finding the mean

How exactly is that cloud SLA derived when you have a multi-cloud environment? Well, that’s tricky. Or rather, it’s a risk management challenge.

“You don’t necessarily regress to the mean or the lowest level. You have to look at the probability of what the service level response is going to be from each provider,” Sealock said. And that SLA might be different from the SLA the cloud provider agreed to in a legal contract. And, he added, it may be different from what your internal architects decide when they “pop the lid off” and see how the service is provisioned.

“To some degree you have to decide how much risk you want to take on, so it’s not a straightforward answer,” Sealock said.

For more advice on how to use ITSM to enable the cloud, read my two-part interview with Andy, “Using ITSM best practices to optimize cloud usage,” andUse an ITSM portal as gateway to cloud services.”

Also, stay tuned for more advice on making ITSM SLAs work in a multi-cloud environment.

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