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The Role of Service Level Objectives (SLOs) in Site Relability Engineering (SRE)
05.01.2023 | Ewa Suszek

Reliability engineering (SRE) starts to play recently an increasingly important role. As companies turn to cloud automation and digital transformation to streamline business operations, reliability engineering (SRE) has begun to take center stage.

Successful SRE is a team effort. In much the same way that quarterbacks need fullbacks and wingers to win football games, reliability engineers need service level objectives (SLOs) to measure, manage and monitor the results they want.

What does it look like in practice? What steps are crucial for SRE to ensure objective success with SLO?

Step 1: Categorize service levels and the data needed to measure them

SLOs enable the SRE to set goals based on meaningful business methods. 75% of organisations usinng the SRE admit to using SLOs to assess service levels for applications and infrastructure. However, the challenge is to effectively categorize key service levels and the data essential to meeting them. For many companies, it is tempting to follow the path of least resistance using currently captured Service Level Indicators (SLIs) to inform SLOs. The problem is that this approach, while simple, can introduce some inaccuracies.

Instead, it is better to ask a simple question: What is most important to the company? From this level, companies can identify business objectives and service level agreements (SLAs) that define effective SLOs. While each company is unique, four core service-level goals remain common to all:

  • Availability
  • User satisfaction
  • Error indicators
  • Failure indicators


Step 2: Consolidate your monitoring data into one “source of truth”

Disconnected departmental silos and data overload challenge the development and implementation of service-driven goals. In fact, 68% of SREs say that silo teams and multiple tools make it difficult to create a single “source of truth” – and 99% of SREs say that the combination of silo data, multiple metrics, and complex monitoring tools creates challenges in SLO development.

Solving this challenge means consolidating all the data and resources required for SLOs into a single observability platform that meets the needs of all stakeholders. This creates a single, co-shared “source of truth” that ensures consistency and transparency in service-level measurement. But a simple implementation of an observation platform is not enough. Companies should also look for tools that include native SLO capabilities and ensure that all dashboards, bug budgets, remediation plans, and alert mechanisms are agreed upon, tested, and deployed before platforms go live.

Step 3: Correlate performance metrics with user experience

Regardless of the usefulness of a tool, service or application, they are only effective when users make any use of it. As a result, it is very important to correlate performance metrics with user’s experience in order to understand how users interact with key resources, what kind of experiences they have, and how those experiences influence their behaviour.

In practice, this means using key metrics such as accessibility and engagement. Is a given service usually available to users? How often do they interact with the app or service? Meanwhile, when it comes to mobile apps, it’s worth looking at metrics such as app adoption rates, app ratings on popular app stores, overall response time, and crashes on officially supported devices. The correlation of these metrics enables companies to identify potential issues before they negatively affect SLOs.

Tip: Consider an increase in crash rates coupled with a rapid decline in app ratings. While the correlation doesn’t indicate a problem, it does allow teams to start looking for the source.

Step 4: Assess SLO using a precise data-driven approach

Half of those responsible for SRE noted that their organizations had little standardized methodology for setting SLO goals and measuring results. As a result, goals may be set too high or too low; extremely high targets are almost impossible to achieve, while very low targets are easier to achieve but provide no incentive for improvement.

In this case, a data-driven approach to creating and evaluating SLOs allows you to find the best point to manage service level objectives. This starts with advanced monitoring tools that help guide companies towards the right goals based on historical data and existing industry standards. It is also important to define the purpose of the SLO parameters. For example, 59% of SREs said they use these goals to push the boundaries of customer service, while 49% use them to ensure that suppliers of the services accomplish their goals. Finally, 42% use them to provide IT teams with an assessment of the impact of their efforts towards business goals.

Finally, it is important to define SLO ownership. Its best fit depends on the circumstances; while development teams are often tasked with maintaining SLOs for non-production applications, SRE teams are often the ideal choice fo

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