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Service Level Management in the Data Center

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Service Level Management (SLM) provides the methodology and discipline for measuring overall system performance parameters and forms the basis for implementing service level agreements (SLAs). This article presents a basic definition of SLM, details the SLM process, and provides best practices for using SLM. Tasks described include all aspects of gathering the metrics needed, at all platform layers, to evaluate compliance with SLAs and to ensure continuous improvement in overall system performance. Future articles from this author will investigate best practices surrounding SLAs.
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"In today's world, where ideas are increasingly displacing the physical in the production of economic value, competition for reputation becomes a significant driving force, propelling our economy forward. Manufactured goods often can be evaluated before the completion of a transaction. Service providers, on the other hand, usually can offer only their reputations."

—Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System

In today's service driven networks, the ability to deliver according to pre-defined agreements becomes increasingly a competitive requirement. Aside from being able to deliver highly available, reliably performing systems, just being able to deliver your promise is key to success. This is why an effective and efficient Service Level Management (SLM) system is important.

This article describes what SLM entails and what advantages it brings to Internet data center (IDC) providers. It also describes recommendations to successfully implement an SLM system.

An important element of the success of SLM is a sound Service Level Agreement (SLA). More details about this topic are discussed in the article Service Level Agreement in the Data Center, which will be available in April 2002.

Service Level Management

Ultimately, the goal of good SLM is to avoid what is quoted by nextslm.org as a widely anticipated pitfall:

"The IT industry has a history of over-promising and under-delivering. This history repeats itself in the applications service provider (ASP) model, with promises of absolute (99.99999%) reliability, global availability and rock bottom costs."

"nextslm.org" (http://www.nextslm.org/) is an online learning community, dedicated to providing clear, concise answers about SLM. This community is sponsored by BMC, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Sun Microsystems.

SLM is the process that enables Internet data center (IDC) providers to deliver according to the SLAs that describe the expected performance of a service provider. It involves people, process and technology at all key areas of data center operations. The following paragraphs describe these areas in more detail.

Operational Aspects

FIGURE 1 is graphical overview of the operational management aspects commonly found in an IDC environment. This model is based on the Information Technology (IT) management framework as it is defined by Sun Professional Services of the Americas. The main objective is to show where SLM fits into the overall data center management challenge.

FIGURE 1 shows the organization of the key operational management aspects by function. The three faces of the cube show the pillars of a successful IT management model—people, process and tools. Within each face are more details of the contents.


This area includes all aspects of organization and human resources. It addresses all challenges in this space as they relate to the other faces.

FIGURE 1 Overview of Operational Aspects in a Data Center Environment



This face shows the processes that are identified by the Sun Ready methodology as key to successful data center management. Somewhat counter intuitively, the SLM process is part of the Account Management process. This is because it is here that Service Performance is measured against customer expectations.


This face shows the main building blocks of a data center management tools framework. It follows a multitiered approach where agents reside on the managed components and integrate into higher layers of abstraction. Around it are the entry and exit points of the automation—a management portal to provide visibility into the information and a process workflow manager to facilitate the hand-off into the management processes face. The SLM is the highest level of abstraction in this model and refers to the tools that facilitate SLM.

For any category to function successfully, all three dimensions of people, process and technology must be addressed properly; a successful approach to SLM does this. This section focuses more on the technology aspects of the SLM process.

The IDC provider must deal with the following challenges while maintaining a high Quality of Service (QoS):

  • Manage multiple network entry points provided by different vendors.

  • Manage multiple, different infrastructure technologies like wireless, computer systems, databases and so forth with their associated vendors.

  • Manage frequent changes in platform technology, functionality and scale.

  • Manage frequent changes in service technology, functionality and scale.

  • Provision over multiple service vendors to be able to manage and provide "single sign-on."

  • Manage geographically dispersed consumers and services.

The common thread between these challenges is "How do you keep your hands around all these different and dispersed components of your service?" A good approach to SLM provides the means to identify the issues and resolve them, while enabling a continuous quality improvement process.

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