Warranties, Service Contracts and Service Level Agreements
Warranties and guarantees, service contracts and service level agreements are all common terms used within many industries and no more so than within the datacentre and server room market spaces. Each of these differs in what they offer and cover.
Warranty and Guarantee
A warranty is a term of contract between a buyer and seller (trade supplier or manufacturer) that gives the seller the responsibility to repair or replace a faulty good within a certain time frame. Often you hear about 12 or 24 months standard warranties. Sometimes suppliers offer extended warranties which increase the time frame to 36 or 60 months (3 or 5 years respectively).
A guarantee is more general and is a promise from the seller to the buyer to replace or repair or give a refund within a certain time frame if a good or service is found to be faulty. Guarantees are not normally legally binding, whereas warranties can be. When considering an extended warranty (which is typically a chargeable item) it is important to make sure that the items within the extended warranty are not actually covered within the product or service guarantee.
At Server Room Environments, we provide a 12 months guarantee on any service we provide. Within that timeframe if any fault or deficiency is found we investigate and propose a course of action with the aim to ensure we have 100% satisfied clients. Every product we supply has a minimum 12 months warranty from new and if the manufacturer provides a longer standard warranty i.e. 24 or 36 months we pass this onto the client on a back-to-back arrangement.
Within the warranty period any failure is responded to on a best endeavours basis. Often this means almost instantly but a ‘best endeavours’ basis gives us the chance to respond within a typically longer time frame of 24 working hours. For a guaranteed faster response time, a maintenance contract should be purchased.
Maintenance Contracts and Service Contracts
The terms maintenance and service are interchangeable and basically mean that the client has a contract for the provision of services at a site for a product. A typical maintenance contact will include provision for:
- Emergency response time
- 24/7 technical support hotline
- Preventative maintenance visit(s)
- Parts and labour pricing
When you purchase a maintenance or service contract you are essentially purchasing a range of extended services including a guaranteed response time. This will be quicker than a best endeavours response and could provide an engineer on site within 4 clock hours, 8 or 12 working hours. With 4 clock hours response, this is known as a 24/7 service as it is provided around the clock on a 365 day a year basis including weekends and bank holidays. For 8 and 12 working hours response, an engineer will be on site during normal working hours Monday to Friday.
The maintenance contract can also include 24/7 hotline technical support. This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide technical information and support.
A maintenance contract will typically include a preventative maintenance visit known as a PM visit. This is normally provided in working hours and without interruption to the connected system or load be it an air conditioner or UPS system. The attending engineer will complete a checklist covering visual and physical inspection of the system, surroundings, components, consumables and firmware logs and alarm histories. Following the PM visit a report may be provided with recommended actions and works required. Whilst an annual PM visit is sufficient for most systems, some may require a bi-annual inspection. If an out-of-hours visit is required this may be chargeable as may any provision of load bank testing for a UPS, generator or testing of an air conditioning system.
Non-consumable parts are normally covered within a maintenance contract if the product is within its warranty period. Consumables including fans, capacitors, filters and batteries are generally not covered and chargeable. This can vary from product to product. Labour is typically included if the product is in warranty and the parts are non-consumable. Outside warranty, parts and labour are typically excluded or included but at a premium rate.
Within most maintenance and service contracts there is no guaranteed fix or repair time. Repairs however may be warranted for 6-12 months and any replaced parts provide either the remainder of the existing system warranty or the part manufacturer’s warranty, whichever is shortest.
Service Level Agreements
A service level agreement (SLA) is a form of service contract with defined key performance indicators (KPIs) that defines the service expectations of the client. An SLA can be an internal (department to department) or external (supplier to client) arrangement. The typical KPIs or metrics that should be defined within an SLA include:
- The services provided including maintenance areas and products/systems
- Reliability levels in terms of uptime and outage limits
- Responsiveness in terms of service response times in hours
- Reporting in terms of escalation procedures and timeframes
- Monitoring in terms of who will monitor performance and the data to be provided
- Visit to Fix times in terms of how long a service or product can be down before it must be fixed or replaced
- Fines and penalties for failure to meet the SLA metrics
- Escape clauses and restraints in terms of allowed circumstances under which not meeting the SLA metrics will be excused
The exact KPIs and metrics for any SLA will be dependent upon the products, services and client needs but an SLA will generally include quantifiable metrics that can be measured and reported against. This also allows for benchmarking for product sets against known industry standards including targets for specific Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) and Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) either on average or within a band of acceptable values.
When comparing new build or refurbish tenders and quotations it is always worth drilling down in to the guarantees and warranty terms and the cost for service contracts and the details of any SLA suggested. When it comes to critical power or cooling or IT systems we recommend checking for:
- Guarantees and warranties: duration and terms including exceptions
- Commissioning: procedures, registrations and engineer authorisation
- Maintenance or service contract: response times, options, duration, engineer location
- Spares: planned replacements, availability, pricing, recycling/disposal responsibilities
- Technical support: availability and contact numbers
- Firmware upgrade: provision and downtime required if any
- SLA metrics including MTBF and MTTR
- Maintenance lock-in software
Maintenance ‘lock-in’ can be an often-overlooked aspect for any system purchased. This is where dongles or manufacturer controlled service software is required for an ‘approved’ engineer to access key information about a system or complete a component upgrade or consumable replacement. Such a feature can lead to less favourable service and parts pricing than an ‘open’ approach.
Investigating what suppliers and manufacturers provide in terms of warranties and guarantees, maintenance contracts and service level agreements are important aspects when looking to decide between prospective suppliers and tenderers.
At Server Room Environments, we prefer to operate with a transparent approach to all commercial matters as we want to develop long-term relationships with our clients and one where our expertise is considered the ‘value-add’ that we bring to the partnership.