Guest Column | August 31, 2016

Service Level Agreements: 3 Best Practices For MSPs

Neal Bradbury

By Neal Bradbury, Senior Director of Channel Development, Intronis MSP Solutions by Barracuda

The transition to managed services from a break-fix business model can be challenging for MSPs. There is much to consider in terms of setting expectations, documenting the deliverables, and defining how the MSP’s relationships with its clients will be governed under this new model.

Service Level Agreement (SLAs) are a great tool for ensuring everyone is on the same page when it comes to the scope of work, the quality in which the work will be delivered, and who is responsible for what in the relationship.

Yet, when it comes to creating an SLA, MSPs — especially those that are just transitioning from a break-fix to a managed services model — often struggle to identify what should be included in these documents. The following are some best practices MSPs can leverage to get the process started.

  1. Be specific. As the old saying goes, “The devil is in the detail.” It is critical MSPs keep their SLAs as detailed as possible in order to clearly define up front what the relationship with their client will include and the responsibilities of each party to the agreement. Some things that should be outlined in an SLA include expectations for both the client and MSP; terms of support, including whether emergency support will be provided and to what extent; whether the MSP will provide training to the client; and payment terms, including pricing for services and what happens if the client does not pay for services rendered. The SLA agreement should also cover performance standards including response times, uptime and availability, and how far in advance the client will be notified of maintenance or changes that affect their users. General reporting metrics such as usage, number of tickets open, and anything else the MSP will measure for the client can also be outlined by the SLA.
  2. Engage with an attorney. As a legal best practice, it is important the MSP have an attorney assist in the creation of an SLA. The SLA should be exact enough to be a legally binding agreement, and once it is created, it can be used as a reference point for either party. It is important to note, though, that if the requirements of the SLA are not met this can then be used to either the MSP’s advantage — or disadvantage — in court. This is why having an attorney involved is essential for ensuring any possible loopholes are closed and everything is set up in a legally sound manner.
  3. Include an RPO and RTO. Most MSPs’ SLAs include the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO), and there are several things MSPs should consider when adding these details to their SLAs:
    • RPO is the maximum amount of time that can pass between backups that is acceptable to the client. MSPs should work with their client to determine that, if something were to happen, how old are the files they would need to recover? This will help define the frequency of data backups and whether they should take place every hour, every night, or every week. MSPs should make the RPO reasonable enough that they will be able to meet this requirement. And, as a best practice, they should have more than one backup completed within the RPO time frame so they can still deliver on their promise even if there are errors in one of the backups.
    • RTO is how long it will take to recover the data and restore. Typically the shorter the time frame to recover, the more expensive it is. Depending on the MSP’s internal resources, it could take a week for the data to be fully restored from their backups. The more business critical the information is, the more important it is to have short RPO/RTO.

It is important to note a client who relies heavily on their data might already have specific RPO and RTO requirements when they engage with an MSP. So, before signing on the new client, MSPs should make sure that they would be able to meet these commitments if a disaster recovery situation were to occur.

Creating an SLA can be time-consuming, but when MSPs take the time to set clear expectations regarding their client relationships up front, it will be well worth it in the end. A mutually-agreed upon document in the form of an SLA will not only help deter problems down the road, but it will also enable the MSP to run their business more smoothly.

Neal Bradbury is Senior Director of Business Development for Intronis MSP Solutions by Barracuda, a provider of backup and data protection solutions for managed services providers, where he is responsible for generating greater business value for the company’s MSP partner community and alliance partners.