Service-level guarantees meet the 'Net

By Denise Pappalardo, Network World |  Business

No matter what line of business your company is in, if it is planning to use the
Internet to support employees, customers or business partners, then service-level
agreements (SLA) are going to become increasingly relevant.

Getting an SLA from a phone company is one thing, but getting one from an ISP is
another. Because the Internet isn't as predictable as, say, a frame relay network with
fixed end points, it is far more difficult to get meaningful performance guarantees
from an ISP.

But network predictability is exactly what companies need to have before putting
their most important applications on the 'Net.

"In many ways, e-mail is the lifeblood of our organization's communications," says
Joshua Norrid, directory of application development at Bristol Hotels and Resorts in
Addison, Texas. "If our remote people can't access the network, then productivity is
reduced," he says.

SLAs are intended for companies like Bristol. Typically, the agreements spell out
the level of network performance a service provider will guarantee as well as the
penalties the service provider will be forced to pay if it doesn't live up to its
commitments. These penalties can include credits on your monthly service bill.

100% guaranteed

Today UUNET, MCI WorldCom's ISP division, is leading the SLA
pack with guarantees of 100% network availability and maximum round-trip latency of 85
msec over its domestic network. UUNET's international customers get the 100%
availability guarantee and a maximum round-trip latency of 120 msec.

However, Bristol has chosen to work with GTE Internetworking, an ISP that is
customizing its SLAs to meet the hospitality firm's needs.

Bristol is using GTE's dial-up Internet access, dedicated T-1 Internet access and
managed firewall services - each of which has its own SLA. For example, GTE credits
Bristol's dial-up accounts whenever the dial-up network is unavailable for an extended
period.

In working with Bristol in recent months, GTE has had to do a lot of network re-
engineering to meet Bristol's needs, Norrid says. Initially, "GTE didn't effectively
communicate what was happening, when it was happening or where," he says.

So Bristol added a provision to its SLA that requires GTE to notify Bristol prior to
any scheduled outage, Norrid says. GTE is required to inform Bristol of what areas of
the country will be affected and for how long, he says.

Bristol also has a network availability guarantee from GTE for dedicated T-1
Internet access services. Norrid says the SLA is fine for the time being, given that
his company is not using the service for mission-critical traffic. But Bristol will
need better guarantees once that changes, he says.

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