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A file transfer service level agreement (SLA) establishes exactly what a particular customer should expect from a particular file transfer provider, and how that customer should seek relief for grievances.

A file transfer SLA will often contain the following kinds of service expectations:

Availability: This expresses how often the file transfer service is expected to be online.  An availability SLA is often expressed as a percentage with a window of downtime.  For example: “99.9% uptime except for scheduled downtime between 2:00am and 5:00am on the second Sunday of the month.”

Different availability SLAs may be in effect for different services or different customers. Availability SLAs are not unique to file transfer; most Internet-based services contain an availability SLA of some kind.

Round-Trip Response Time: This expresses how fast a complete response to a submitted file will be returned.  A round-trip response time SLA is often expressed as a certain length of time.  For example, “we promise to return a complete response for all files submitted within 20 minutes of a completed upload”.  Sometimes a statistical percentage is also included, as in “on average, 90% of all files will receive a completed response within 5 minutes.”

The reference to “round-trip” response time rather than just “response time” indicates that the time counted against the SLA is the total time it takes for a customer to upload a file, for that file to be consumed and processed internally, and for any response files to be written and made available to customers.  Simple “response time” could just indicate the amount of time it would take the system to acknowledge (but not process) the original upload.

Different round-trip response time SLAs may be in place for different customers, types of files or times of day. Round-trip response time SLAs are similar to agreements found in physical logistics: “if you place an order by this time the shipment will arrive by that time.”

Completed Body of Work: This expresses that a particular set of expected files will arrive in a particular window and will be appropriately handled, perhaps yielding a second set of files, within the same or extended window.  For example, “we expect 3 data files and 1 control file between 4pm and 8pm everyday, and we expect 2 response files back at any time in that window but no later than 9pm”

Files in a body of work can be specified by name, path, size, contents or other pieces of metadata.  There are typically two windows of time (“transmission windows“) associated with a body of work: the original submission window and a slightly larger window for responses.

SLAs can be set up between independent partners or between departments or divisions within an organisation.  A less stringent form of SLA known as an operating level agreement (OLA) when it is between two departments in the same organisation, especially when an OLA is set up to help support a customer-facing SLA.

BEST PRACTICE: A good file transfer SLA will contain expectations around availability and either round-trip response times or expected work to be performed in a certain transfer window, as well as specific penalties for failing to meet expectations.  File transfer vendors should provide adequate tools to monitor SLAs and allow people who use their solutions to detect SLA problems in advance and to compensate customers appropriately if SLAs are missed.