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What should you look for in a cloud backup service-level agreement?

What fine-print details should I watch for in a cloud backup service-level agreement?

I think that the biggest mistake that is made with regard to service-level agreements (SLAs) is assuming they are written for your benefit. At one time (maybe five or six years ago), SLAs were commonly used as a marketing tool. Cloud providers offered up SLAs as a way of assuring reluctant customers of the reliability of their service.

Today, the tables have turned. Although cloud service providers might still use SLAs as a tool for reaching out to customers, most of the cloud backup service-level agreements that I have seen lately do not actually benefit the customer. The majority of the SLAs that are being used today seem to be designed to protect the cloud service provider, not the customer. These cloud backup service-level agreements are full of gotchas.

One of the first things I would recommend looking for in an SLA is a guaranteed level of performance. It has become trendy for cloud service providers to guarantee 99.99% uptime, but remember, guaranteed uptime is meaningless if the provider's service is so slow that it is impractical.

Another thing to watch out for is limits of liability. Pretty much every cloud provider is going to have a limit-of-liability clause built into the SLA or into its service contract. However, it is becoming increasingly common for these limit-of-liability statements to be written in a way that completely absolves the provider of all responsibility for keeping your data safe (and isn't that what a cloud backup is for?).

Another thing that you need to be on the lookout for in a cloud backup service-level agreement for is regulatory and legal compliance. Many SLAs contain clauses that boil down to saying that the cloud provider will store your data, but that it is ultimately up to you to make sure that the data is stored in accordance with federal, state and local laws. In my opinion, the provider needs to take some responsibility for making sure that they comply with any applicable laws.

Next Steps

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This was last published in October 2014

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