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Service level agreements
Lisa DeVotoOctober 3, 20174 min read

What is a managed services SLA (Service Level Agreement)?

If you are considering using a managed service provider (MSP), you may have run across service level agreements (SLA) and wondered what is the purpose of these documents and if you really need one. When evaluating different IT providers, some may offer SLAs and some may not, and you could be wondering if an SLA is beneficial to you or is something on which you should insist. In a word... YES!

What is an SLA?

A service level agreement (SLA) is a comprehensive document that clearly defines the responsibilities of the managed services provider (MSP), metrics as to what constitutes meeting the SLA standards, and what penalties are in place if the MSP misses a provision of the SLA.


A managed services SLA is the guarantee you have from the MSP, and it describes the obligation of the MSP. This comprehensive document clearly defines the responsibilities of the MSP, metrics as to what constitute meeting the SLA standards, and what penalties are in place if the MSP misses a provision of the SLA.



Without an IT services SLA, there can be misunderstandings on both sides. The SLA is the legal document describing exactly what services you are buying. It also makes clear your responsibilities. With an SLA, you have peace of mind.

Service Availability

A typical component of the SLA will cover service outages and what happens if this occurs. The SLA will define goals, such as 99.99% network availability. The SLA will also cover known factors that will impact service availability such as scheduled maintenance. Depending on the service, other availability guarantees that may be defined include those for backup resources and power.

The MSP should have a monitoring system in place that tracks any outages, and be able to report this information to you. This may refer to some type of 'uptime' guarantee. How this metric is calculated should also be defined in the SLA.

The SLA should include information describing under what conditions you would receive a credit against your monthly fee. If the service availability guarantee is 99.99%, the credit may be calculated as described in this example.

Example Service Availability Credit Calculation

  • 99.0% - 99.99%: 5% credit
  • 98.0% - 98.99%: 10% credit
  • 95.0% - 97.99%: 15% credit
  • ...

Any exclusions that would impact how service availability is calculated will also be defined in the SLA.


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Depending on which services you are using, the SLA may define what response times you can expect from the MSP when you report a problem.

Similar to service availability goals, your SLA will define response time goals and describe under what conditions you would receive a credit against your monthly fee.

The SLA will also describe how issues will be escalated depending on the severity. The MSP will likely have technical staff with different levels of capabilities. The SLA will describe the process for escalating more complex technical issues to senior technical staff and engineers with relevant expertise.


Service Offerings

The MSP should provide a SLA for each unique service. Typical services for which you can expect an SLA include:

  • IT monitoring
  • managed hosting
  • colocation
  • backup & disaster recovery


IT managed services


The SLA may cover the following points, depending on relevance to the service you are buying:

  • For colocation services, what is provided to you (typically rack space, power, and internet connection)
  • For backup services, what data is backed up and how it is automated
  • From which hardware the service will be configured, whether yours or MSP-provided
  • Whether your hardware and software is hosted within the MSP's data center
  • After the service has been configured by the MSP, the method for approval to 'sign off' on the configuration
  • If backup is configured, how the backup procedure will be tested to ensure that data recovery can be achieved in the event of a disaster
  • Whether the MSP will provide any training to you, and how many members of your staff will be trained
  • In the event of a disaster, how a site recovery is to be initiated
  • Your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), (learn more in "5 Questions to Ask About Managed Backup")
  • How much storage space is available to you and what happens if you exceed your allocated amount
  • If you terminate backup services with the MSP, the MSP will not retain your stored backups 
  • How you can initiate any additional services outside of the services for which you originally signed up

When engaging with a technical services provider, you should insist on service level agreements


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About Corserva 

Corserva provides managed IT services and our business success is built on long-term relationships that deliver reduced cost, innovative new business solutions, and competitive advantage for our clients. We measure our success in very precise terms that include service level agreements for IT services such as backup & disaster recovery, managed hosting, and IT monitoring.



Lisa DeVoto

Lisa has 25+ years of experience working for technology companies in B2B marketing and technical communications. She is driven to help people solve problems through educational content. Lisa has an MBA from University of Connecticut and a BS in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.