Posey's Tips & Tricks

Server Interruptus: Why Hardware Vendors Need SLAs

The time has come for hardware vendors to offer service level agreements (SLAs).

Readers may be scratching their heads right now. How might an SLA be applied to a hardware vendor? SLAs are typically associated with services from telecom providers or ISPs, guaranteeing uptime. Still, the concept has more generally made its way into the IT world. It's part of company requirements these days.

For example, companies may require that their IT departments keep a server online 99.999 percent of the time, which translates to less than five minutes of downtime per year. Even Microsoft is offering a financially backed SLA for their soon-to-be-released Office 365 service.

The idea of SLAs for hardware vendors came to me after some bad experiences. Let me share the most recent incident I experienced with a lab server running Microsoft's Hyper-V. I use this server to create virtual machines to test concepts for my writing work, but the server became badly damaged from a power surge. A recent storm rendered the server inoperable.

Service Gone Awry
I placed an order for replacement parts with a hardware vendor, requesting overnight shipping of a system board, a CPU and some memory components. I had used this hardware vendor for many years, but the Thursday overnight order resulted in a Monday delivery. And the order wasn't correct. I received about 10 hard drives, a couple of DVD burners, two CPUs of the wrong type and twice as much memory as ordered.

After calling the vendor, I was assured that the correct order would be shipped overnight, but nothing arrived for several days. One week after placing my original order, I received another hard drive in the mail. By the end of it all, it took nearly two weeks and several calls to receive the correct order. Returning the unordered items used up even more of my time because the vendor kept messing up the return shipping invoices. The vendor also tried to bill me for items that I had neither ordered nor received.

This hardware vendor was no shady fly-by-night supplier. You'd likely recognize its name as a reputable company. Likely, I'm not alone in having such an experience.

A Call to Arms
I was just trying to rebuild a lab server, but the experience would have been far more acute if the parts were for a production server running mission-critical applications. The vendor's mistakes would have resulted in financial loss due to extended sever downtime.

When a hardware vendor messes up an order, it can cause many problems for an organization. Orders critical enough to justify the cost of overnight shipping should come with some sort of financially backed SLA to ensure that situations like mine don't repeat. While some hardware vendors may offer such guarantees, I haven't found any yet.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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