A service-level agreement is a negotiated agreement between two or more parties, where one is the customer and the others are service providers. This can be a legally binding formal or an informal “contract” (for example, internal department relationships). Contracts between the service provider and other third parties are often (incorrectly) called SLAs – because the level of service has been set by the (principal) customer, there can be no “agreement” between third parties; these agreements are simply “contracts.” Operational-level agreements or OLAs, however, may be used by internal groups to support SLAs.
The SLA records a common understanding about services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees, and warranties. Each area of service scope should have the “level of service” defined. The SLA may specify the levels of availability, serviceability, performance, operation, or other attributes of the service, such as billing. The “level of service” can also be specified as “expected” and “minimum,” which allows customers to be informed what to expect (the minimum), while providing a measurable (average) target value that shows the level of organization performance. In some contracts, penalties may be agreed upon in the case of non-compliance of the SLA (but see “internal” customers below). It is important to note that the “agreement” relates to the services the customer receives, and not how the service provider delivers that service.
SLAs commonly include segments to address: a definition of services, performance measurement, problem management, customer duties, warranties, disaster recovery, termination of agreement. In order to ensure that SLAs are consistently met, these agreements are often designed with specific lines of demarcation and the parties involved are required to meet regularly to create an open forum for communication. Contract enforcement (rewards and penalties) should be rigidly enforced, but most SLAs also leave room for annual revisitation so that it is possible to make changes based on new information.