How do I assess the quality of my external IT supplier?

Given the extent to which companies are contracting out their IT organisation to other parties, outsourcing appears to be making a comeback. But migrating your IT infrastructure and management of the cloud or another party remains a hot topic.

In the outsourcing procedure you lay down your criteria for the quality to be delivered by the other party. We have to do this, because otherwise the supplier will rest on his laurels, which is the last thing we want. So, we’ve got our criteria, but who’s going to monitor them and how transparent are the figures?


An interesting subject to take a look at today.

As I mentioned above, the concept of outsourcing has changed a fair bit since the emergence of the cloud. We now have different levels of outsourcing.

  1. The IT infrastructure runs at the supplier’s premises but you remain responsible for the architecture, implementation and management. You also have the applications managed by your own people. (IaaS)
  2. The IT infrastructure runs at the supplier’s premises and the supplier is responsible for the architecture, implementation and management. You have the applications managed by your own people. (PaaS)
  3. Both the IT infrastructure and the applications are the responsibility of the supplier. It makes no difference how everything has been designed. (SaaS)

The monitoring process is different for each of the three variants. What I regard as being most important here is

  • to have all of the variants assessed by an independent party or by your own organisation. Under no circumstances should this be done by the supplier.
  • All of the assessments are carried out from the end-user’s perspective. The best measure of the supplier’s quality is the performance and availability that you as the buyer receive.

We can use the following solutions for the three variants. I’ve based this on pure SLA monitoring but also on the four data sets; wire, machine, agent and synthetic.

Variant 1 – Infrastructure-as-a-Service

The supplier is solely responsible for providing the hardware. You are responsible for its content. You will usually be responsible for everything from the virtualisation level onwards.

In that case, the best way to monitor the supplier’s service is to place the monitoring process at virtualisation level. Splunk, for instance, has a superb VMWare app that provides you with all the information you need. I can well imagine that the supplier will not in all cases be willing to allow this. It will mean that he has to be transparent about the service he provides and it might be possible to pass on the monitoring data that he generates to your own Splunk implementation in order to draw up the right reports yourself.

Monitoring from infrastructure level is entirely your responsibility, so you can decide for yourself which tool to choose to cover four data sets. A synthetic solution remains desirable but cannot be used in respect of the supplier because he’ll always say that there are other links between what he provides and the end-user and that he is not responsible for them.

Variant 2 – Platform-as-a-Service

In this variant the supplier is responsible up to OS level. From that point onwards you are the owner who implements and manages the applications. In some cases the OS is also shielded and you are only able to implement the applications.

Monitoring the supplier’s service directly affects the performance and availability of your applications, and for that reason it’s advisable to implement a synthetic monitor. You can supplement this with a process that monitors the availability of the OS if you are able to influence this. In this case a simple Ping monitor will suffice.

You can synthetically add agent or machine data in order to cover all of the data sets. Wire data is an attractive option in the application area, but not at infrastructure level. To do this you will need to know a lot about how the infrastructure is set up, and that’s precisely what you wanted to outsource.

Variant 3 – Software-as-a-Service

The supplier arranges everything. You are only the user of the application that you want to buy. The supplier will usually have published his own SLA, but how transparent is it?

The best bet here is to chose a synthetic solution yourself and have it assessed independently. Use these figures to check the quality of the service and to confront the supplier with results other than what have been agreed.

To conclude

Outsourcing is based on trust but to many companies IT is a matter of life or death: it’s importance is inestimable. You want to avoid a situation where finger-pointing starts between you and the supplier if faults occur. Make sure that you give careful thought to monitoring quality also during the implementation of the outsourcing.

How have you experienced this as a user? How do you monitor your outsourcing contracts, and what were your experiences with an outsourcing party? I’d like to hear your experiences – I can learn from them too :-).

About Coen Meerbeek

Solution Architect IT Monitoring / Splunk consultant @ Blue Factory, eigenaar en oprichter @ BuzzardLabs, basketbalspeler en Xbox-gamer. Lees meer van Coen op en Twitter.

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