Build resilient systems at scale
October 12–14, 2015 • New York, NY

The tyranny of the SLA

J. Paul Reed (Release Engineering Approaches), Jim Kimball (HedgeServ Corporation)
3:40pm–4:20pm Tuesday, 10/13/2015
Location: Gramercy
Average rating: ***..
(3.40, 10 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

Some knowledge of existing SLA policies (at participants' own organization or others) will be helpful; some experience operating website/services will also be useful (in the context of incident response).


Service level agreements used to be the domain of commercial internet service providers and other utility-like organizations. But as our industry has moved into the cloud and more toward software-as-a-service-based models, SLAs have become something many operations teams have to grapple with (whether the Sales team let them know or not!).

Given that SLAs often contain financial penalties, they can directly introduce stress and chaos into socio-technical systems at times when those systems are already fatigued by a service degradation or outage. This often inhibits the team’s ability to cope with the problem in the most effective way possible, as The Business inserts itself into the foray to assess the problem.

Additionally, SLAs often create incentives for the organization that are in direct conflict with activities that would help them create resiliency in their systems. Activities such as holding game-days, Netflix “Chaos Monkey”-like software, and actionable, healthy operational retrospectives can be difficult to propose or implement, with the specter of a draconian SLA hanging over everyone’s head.

In this talk, we will:

  • Deconstruct the purpose of the service level agreement
  • Discuss pitfalls of aspects of common SLA clauses, including how current SLAs inhibit the development of resilient systems and the cultivation of a DevOps culture
  • Explore other potential SLA models that could foster healthier organizational behaviors and dynamics, and ultimately result in better technical outcomes and therefore business outcomes.
Photo of J. Paul Reed

J. Paul Reed

Release Engineering Approaches

J. Paul Reed is the founder of Release Engineering Approaches, a consultancy incorporating a host of tools and techniques to help organizations “Simply Ship. Every time.” Paul has worked across a number of industries, from financial services to cloud-based infrastructure, with teams from 2 to 2,000 on everything from tooling, operational analysis and improvement, and team culture transformation to business value optimization. He is also the chief delivery officer and a visiting scientist at Praxisflow.

Photo of Jim Kimball

Jim Kimball

HedgeServ Corporation

Jim Kimball is the chief technology officer at HedgeServ. As CTO, Jim looks for ways to foster the growth (in a biological way) of the technology organization, as well as how to improve how they leverage technology to solve customers’ problems. Recently, he’s been exploring a range of topics, from applying Theory of Constraints to the technology delivery pipeline, to thinking about how application architecture influences an organization’s efficiency and effectiveness (sort of a reverse Conway). Jim has a BA in philosophy from Brandeis University. He blogs at

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