XSP: Tracking The Elusive Service-Level Agreement

In today's economy, old phrases like "you get what you pay for" are becoming increasingly relevant, especially when judging service providers. Traditionally, service-level management has been covered by variations on the service-level agreement. But today, Response Networks revealed that by the end of June it will offer a platform that provides greater granularity when managing networks and applications.

Response Networks' Pulsar xSP adds another software layer. Service providers who implement the service can program Pulsar xSP to monitor application and network performance and uptime. Pulsar xSP uses policies, or thresholds, that promises to detect not only when a system is up or down but also when application response time is degrading.

For example, a bank might want to know that by using one of its applications it can clear its funds by the end of the day--but they can't afford a service provider for the 99.999% uptime to accomplish such a task. That, however, might not be the right solution for correctly managing the services. According to Ivan Sheffrin, Response Networks' founder and senior VP of business development, "More likely, this is a case of making sure a certain application is highly available toward the end of the day, so all the work can be completed before closing."

Some companies rely upon multiple service providers to manage different components of their IT environments. For those firms, xSP also offers an aggregated view to show how well each service provider is performing against its SLAs. The service provider market has fragmented over the past few years to the point where each service provider--whether they offer Internet access, application hosting, storage, or security services--can guarantee only the part of their customer's IT infrastructure that they touch, Sheffrin says.

There's a need for meaningful service-level reporting and guarantees, but a lot of companies outsource work without a service-level contract, says Rick Sturm, president of Enterprise Management Associates. "They do this because their service providers are resistant to signing a contract or because the company doesn't know how to put together and enforce an SLA," he says, adding that Response Networks simplifies the drafting and enforcement of SLAs by automating the process online.

Clients don't want to give up response time when they transition their applications to an application service provider, says Richard Steranka, a director for the Internet communications software group of Cisco Systems, which owns about 10% of Response Networks. Together, Cisco's service-provider product and Internet-communications software groups have been working with Response Networks to develop products like xSP, which can measure response times through Cisco's networking fabric. Cisco's goal with xSP is to enable its customers to diagnose, isolate, and fix network problems that can affect application response time.

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