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SLA vs SLO vs SLI: What’s the Difference?

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SLA vs SLO vs SLI - What’s the Difference?

When we talk about keeping services running smoothly, we often hear about SLAs, SLOs, and SLIs. But what do these terms mean, and how are they different? SLAs, or Service Level Agreements, are like promises between a service provider and a customer. They outline what the customer can expect in terms of service quality.

SLOs, or Service Level Objectives, are the specific goals that service providers aim to hit to meet the promises made in the SLAs. Think of them as targets for how well the service should work. Finally, SLIs, or Service Level Indicators, are the measurements used to see if the service is hitting its targets. They help us understand how well the service is doing. Together, these three help ensure services are delivered well and customers are happy.

CategoriesSLA (Service Level Agreements)SLO (Service Level Objectives)SLI (Service Level Indicators)

What is It?

A contractual commitment defining agreed-upon expectations between a service provider and customers.
Specific, measurable goals set within the broader scope of SLAs.
Specific metrics measuring a service's performance.

How Does It Help?

Outlines metrics, response times, and service quality to ensure performance standards.
Pinpoints desired performance levels, emphasizing reliability and user satisfaction.
Measures specific aspects of a service's performance to assess its quality.

Who Builds It?

A collaborative effort involving service providers and customers, often led by technical teams.
A collaborative effort involving technical teams to set measurable goals within the SLA framework.
Developed by technical teams to measure and monitor specific aspects of service performance.

What Happens if It's Breached?

Breaching SLA terms may lead to penalties, legal consequences, and reputation damage to the provider.
Breaching SLOs signifies a failure to meet performance goals, triggering corrective actions and potential reevaluation.
SLI breaches indicate deviations in specific performance metrics, requiring investigation and improvement.

What is an SLA (Service Level Agreement)

At its core, a Service Level Agreement (SLA) defines the expectations between service providers and customers. Overcoming challenges such as technical intricacies, customer preferences, language clarity, and detailed documentation is key to optimizing SLA effectiveness. By embracing best practices, SLAs become dynamic tools fostering transparency, accountability, and customer satisfaction.

SLA Challenges

Hitting your SLAs can bring many challenges that demand a nuanced and strategic approach. Understanding and addressing these challenges is important for the success and effectiveness of SLAs:

  • Defining Precise Metrics: Accurately quantifying key performance indicators is a fundamental challenge in defining SLAs. The process requires clear definition and measurement to align with both client expectations and operational capabilities.
  • Balancing Flexibility and Specificity: Achieving the right balance between flexibility and specificity is crucial. Overly rigid SLAs may hinder innovation, while overly lenient ones can lead to unmet expectations. Striking the balance is imperative for long-term success.
  • Adapting to Evolving Technologies: The dynamic nature of industries and constant technological advancements pose a continuous challenge. SLAs must be flexible enough to adapt swiftly to changes, ensuring they remain relevant and effective in evolving business landscapes.
  • Effective Communication and Collaboration: Successful SLAs hinge on effective communication and collaboration between service providers and clients. Clear understanding, transparent dialogue, and collaborative problem-solving are essential to preempt and address potential issues.
  • Monitoring Mechanisms: Implementing robust mechanisms for monitoring service level agreements is crucial. Regular assessments and timely feedback loops help identify and address deviations, ensuring service levels meet agreed-upon standards consistently.
  • Commitment to Continuous Improvement: SLAs are not static documents. They are living agreements that demand a commitment to continuous improvement. A proactive approach to refining processes and adapting to changing circumstances is necessary for sustained success.

SLA Best Practices

To overcome these challenges and ensure the effectiveness of SLAs, certain best practices should be observed:

  • Involve Technical Teams in SLA Creation: Collaboration with technical teams from the initial stages ensures that the SLA aligns with the technical capabilities and limitations of the services. This collaboration fosters a more accurate and realistic set of expectations.
  • Create SLAs Keeping Customers’ Preferences in Mind: Considering customers’ preferences is crucial. By incorporating customer feedback and expectations, SLAs become more customer-centric. This also leads to increased satisfaction and trust.
  • Keep SLAs Simple and Use Clear Language: Maintaining simplicity in SLAs is a best practice that cannot be overstated. Clear and straightforward language enhances understanding and reduces the risk of misinterpretation.
  • Document Everything: Comprehensive documentation is crucial for successful SLAs. Documenting all aspects of the agreement ensures transparency. It also provides a reference point for dispute resolution and aids in continuous improvement.

Who Needs an SLA?

Understanding who benefits from SLAs is essential for businesses looking to establish effective service standards. In essence, SLAs are beneficial for:

  • Service Providers: They set clear expectations and define performance standards.
  • Customers: They have a transparent understanding of the services they can expect.
  • Businesses: SLAs contribute to accountability, transparency, and customer satisfaction, ultimately impacting the bottom line positively.

SLA Examples

To illustrate the practical application and importance of effective SLA management, let's explore some real-world examples across various industries:

Use CasesDescription

Cloud Services

This SLA between a cloud service provider like Checkly and its customers specifies uptime guarantees (e.g., 99.9% uptime), data security standards, and disaster recovery protocols.

IT Support

An agreement detailing response times for IT support requests, resolution times based on the severity of issues, and the modes of support available (e.g., phone, email, chat).


SLA for a telecom company can include network availability targets, call quality standards, and maintenance window notifications.

What is an SLO (Service Level Objective)

Service Level Objectives (SLOs) are critical to managing and maintaining reliable and efficient systems. An SLO is a set of quantitative measures that define the level of service a system must deliver. This helps teams align their performance goals with user expectations. SLOs play a pivotal role in ensuring that services meet user needs while allowing organizations to manage their resources effectively.

SLO Challenges

Implementing SLOs comes with a set of challenges. Teams often face difficulties in defining precise and meaningful objectives and striking the right balance between aggressiveness and achievability. The challenge lies in creating objectives that align with user expectations while being realistic regarding system capabilities. Additionally, unforeseen contingencies can impact the achievement of SLOs, requiring continuous adaptation and improvement.

SLO Best Practices

To overcome challenges associated with SLOs, it is essential to follow best practices that streamline the process and enhance the effectiveness of these objectives:

  • Keep SLOs Simple and Clear: Simplicity is key when defining SLOs. Clear and straightforward objectives facilitate better understanding and communication across teams. Avoid overly complex or ambiguous metrics that can lead to confusion and misalignment.
  • Account for Contingent Issues: Recognizing that unforeseen issues can impact service levels is crucial. Build flexibility into your SLOs to account for contingent issues. This allows teams to adapt and maintain service quality despite unexpected challenges.
  • Create SLOs for Internal Systems: While SLOs are often associated with customer-facing services, internal systems also benefit from performance metrics. Implementing SLOs for internal services ensures that the entire infrastructure operates at optimal levels. This contributes to overall organizational efficiency.
  • Don’t Create More Than Necessary SLOs: Creating an excessive number of SLOs can be counterproductive. Focus on the most critical aspects of your services and establish a manageable set of objectives. This enables teams to prioritize effectively and dedicate resources where they are most needed.

Who Needs an SLO?

The adoption of SLOs is not limited to specific roles or teams. Anyone involved in delivering, managing, or maintaining services can benefit from implementing SLOs. Development teams, operations teams, and leadership play crucial roles in defining and achieving SLOs. SLOs serve as a unifying metric that aligns the efforts of various teams toward a common goal—ensuring a high-quality user experience.

SLO Examples

To demonstrate how Service Level Objectives (SLOs) set the stage for measuring and achieving service quality, here are examples from various industries.

Use CasesDescription

E-commerce Website

An SLO for an e-commerce platform may include a page load time of under 2 seconds for 95% of all page views to enhance user experience and reduce bounce rates.

Online Banking

For an online banking service, an SLO can specify a transaction success rate of 99.5%, ensuring reliability and trust in digital transactions.

Cloud Storage

A cloud storage service can have an SLO that guarantees data retrieval times of less than 300 milliseconds for 99% of requests, providing quick access to stored information.

What is an SLI (Service Level Indicator)

Service Level Indicators (SLIs) are fundamental components of service level management. They provide measurable metrics to evaluate the performance of a system. SLIs are specific, quantifiable measurements that give insights into various aspects of a service. This enables teams to assess the service’s reliability and effectiveness.

SLI Challenges

Implementing SLIs comes with its share of challenges. Defining metrics that accurately represent the user experience can be complex. Teams often struggle with selecting the right indicators that align with user expectations and business goals. Additionally, ensuring that SLIs remain relevant and meaningful over time requires continuous attention and adaptation.

SLI Best Practices

Overcoming challenges associated with SLIs involves following best practices that enhance their accuracy and relevance.

  • Create Precise and Measurable SLIs: SLIs should be crafted with precision, reflecting the specific aspects of a service that matter most to users. Measurable metrics allow for objective evaluation and facilitate data-driven decision-making. Avoid vague or overly broad indicators to ensure the effectiveness of SLIs.
  • Keep SLIs Simple: Simplicity is key when designing SLIs. Clear and straightforward indicators are easier to understand and communicate across teams. Avoid unnecessary complexity that can lead to confusion and misinterpretation of performance metrics.

Who Needs an SLI?

The importance of SLIs extends to various roles within an organization. Anyone involved in the development, deployment, or maintenance of services can benefit from incorporating SLIs into their processes. Development teams use SLIs to monitor the impact of code changes. Operations teams leverage SLIs to ensure system reliability. Leadership relies on SLIs to make informed decisions about resource allocation and strategy.

SLI Examples

To refine our understanding of service measurement further, let's examine some Service Level Indicators (SLIs) that quantify the performance of services.

Use CasesDescription

Website Uptime

For a web hosting service, an SLI can measure the percentage of time the hosted websites are accessible to users, aiming for an uptime of 99.9%.

API Response

In API services, an SLI could be the average response time for API calls, with a target of responding within 500 milliseconds for 95% of the requests.

Customer Support Response

For a customer support team, an SLI can track the average response time to customer inquiries, with a goal of responding to 90% of inquiries within 1 hour.

Why are SLAs, SLOs, and SLIs Important?

Service Level Agreements (SLAs), Service Level Objectives (SLOs), and Service Level Indicators (SLIs) are integral components of effective service management. Each of them serves a unique purpose in ensuring the delivery of high-quality services. Understanding their importance is paramount for organizations striving to meet user expectations and maintain operational excellence.

Ensuring Accountability with SLAs

SLAs set the foundation for accountability and transparency. These agreements define the expected level of service a customer can anticipate. It also outlines measurable metrics such as response times, uptime, and resolution periods. By clearly defining these expectations, SLAs foster trust between service providers and customers. When complied with, SLAs help organizations demonstrate their commitment to delivering reliable and timely services.

Aligning Objectives with SLOs

SLOs bridge the gap between user expectations and system capabilities. These objectives establish quantifiable performance goals. This allows teams to align their efforts with user needs. SLOs serve as a roadmap for maintaining service quality. They help organizations strike a balance between ambitious targets and achievable benchmarks. Establishing SLOs encourages continuous improvement, adaptability, and a proactive approach to managing service levels.

Gaining Insights Through SLIs

SLIs provide a granular view of service performance. These indicators offer specific, measurable metrics that serve as the building blocks for SLOs. SLIs enable teams to monitor various aspects of service. These range from latency and error rates to user interactions. By regularly evaluating SLIs, organizations gain valuable insights into the real-time health of their services. This process empowers them to make informed decisions, identify areas for improvement, and respond promptly to emerging issues.

The Collective Impact

When integrated, SLAs, SLOs, and SLIs form a comprehensive framework for service excellence. SLAs provide a contractual foundation, SLOs establish performance objectives, and SLIs offer tangible metrics to measure success. This triad ensures a holistic approach to service management, aligning customer expectations with organizational capabilities.

Practical Example: Implementing SLIs, SLOs, and SLAs for APIs

In the context of managing a customer-facing, business-critical API, it's essential to establish clear standards and expectations to ensure high-quality service. Here, we dive into an example that outlines SLIs, SLOs, and SLAs, using a practical scenario.

SLI: Service Level Indicator

The SLI acts as a measure of the performance and reliability of the API. In this case, the SLI is defined by the API's ability to respond successfully with HTTP status codes ranging from 200 to 499, coupled with a response time of under one second. This metric is crucial because it quantifies the operational performance of the API from a technical standpoint, focusing on availability and speed.

SLO: Service Level Objective

Building on the SLI, the SLO sets a target for the level of service the API aims to deliver. For our API, the objective is that the SLI conditions (response codes within 200-499 and response times below one second) are met for the 99th percentile of all requests. This means that out of 100 requests, at least 99 should satisfy these criteria. The SLO is a commitment to maintaining a high standard of service, ensuring that nearly all requests are handled efficiently and effectively.

SLA: Service Level Agreement

The SLA transforms the SLO into a formal agreement with the customer. It guarantees that the service will achieve the SLO targets for a specified period, in this case, a quarter. The SLA also outlines the compensation customers will receive if the service fails to meet these expectations. This compensation could take various forms, such as financial credits, discounts, or other remedies. The SLA is a crucial part of customer contracts, providing a legal framework that ensures accountability and offers reassurance to customers about the reliability of the service.

By setting these SLIs, SLOs, and SLAs, the company not only commits to delivering a high-quality API service but also provides transparency and trust to its customers. This framework helps manage expectations, foster customer satisfaction, and drive continuous improvement in service performance.

How Checkly Can Help You Hit Your SLAs

Checkly focuses on Synthetic Monitoring to track how well websites, applications, and APIs work. Its goal is to help meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with customers with its features such as API checks, browser checks, heartbeat monitoring, etc. 

API Checks

API checks monitor vital API endpoints frequently from various global locations. They allow for the validation of response codes and bodies to ensure accuracy, while also keeping an eye on response times to maintain a quick and efficient experience. Additionally, the feature of receiving instant alerts when any monitoring checks indicate a failure provides the assurance needed for maintaining smooth API operations. This proactive approach to monitoring ensures that APIs function seamlessly, enhancing reliability and user satisfaction.

A screenshot of the Checkly UI that shows the screen where you monitor your API checks

Check out this tutorial to find out how Checkly’s API checks work.

Checkly’s API checks can help you achieve your SLAs through: 

  • Continuous Monitoring: Checkly allows you to continuously monitor your APIs from multiple global locations. This helps ensure that your services are available and responsive across different regions, aligning with SLA requirements for uptime and performance.
  • Automated Testing in Production: You can automate API testing to validate the functionality, performance, and reliability of your endpoints. This includes checking for correct status codes, response times, and validating response bodies against expected outcomes. API monitoring helps in the early detection of issues that could breach SLA terms.
  • Alerting and Notifications: Checkly provides real-time alerts and notifications when your APIs do not meet predefined thresholds or when failures occur. This immediate feedback loop enables you to quickly respond to and resolve issues before they impact your SLA commitments.
  • Customizable Check Intervals: You can customize how frequently your APIs are checked, allowing for more frequent monitoring of critical services that have strict SLA requirements. This ensures that any downtime or performance degradation is detected and addressed promptly.
  • Performance Tracking: Checkly tracks the performance of your APIs over time, offering insights into trends and potential areas of improvement. This data can help you optimize your services to not only meet but exceed SLA expectations regarding response times and reliability.
  • Detailed Reporting: The platform provides detailed reports and dashboards that give visibility into API health, performance metrics, and historical data. These insights can be used to demonstrate compliance with SLAs during audits and reviews with stakeholders.

Browser Checks

On the other hand, Checkly’s Playwright-based browser checks mimic user actions to make sure key processes work smoothly, and the heartbeat feature checks if systems are running properly. These capabilities enable the monitoring of response times, uptime, functionality, and internal systems performance. This comprehensive monitoring supports SLAs in keeping services healthy and running efficiently.

A screenshot of Checkly's UI showing the screen where you monitor your browser checks

Checkly’s browser checks can help you achieve your SLAs through: 

  • Real User Simulation: Checkly's browser checks use real browsers to simulate user actions, such as clicking links, filling out forms, and navigating through web pages. This allows you to test and monitor the end-to-end user experience, ensuring that your application meets SLA requirements for functionality and user satisfaction.
  • Global Coverage: By running browser checks from multiple locations worldwide, you can ensure that your web application delivers a consistent user experience across different geographical regions. This is particularly important for SLAs that specify performance standards across diverse user bases.
  • Performance Metrics: Checkly provides detailed performance metrics, such as page load times, which are crucial for meeting SLAs related to website speed and responsiveness. Monitoring these metrics allows you to identify and address performance bottlenecks before they affect user satisfaction.
  • Visual Regression Testing: You can use Checkly to perform visual regression testing, which ensures that your web application's visual elements render correctly across different browsers and devices. This helps maintain a high-quality user interface, in line with SLA standards for usability and design.
  • Error Detection and Alerting: Checkly alerts you in real-time if a browser check fails, enabling you to quickly identify and resolve issues such as broken links, malfunctioning features, or downtime. This rapid response capability is essential for adhering to SLAs that stipulate minimal downtime and quick issue resolution.
  • Customizable Check Intervals: You can configure the frequency of your browser checks to match the criticality of different application components. For example, you might run checks on key user flows every few minutes to ensure high availability and performance, aligning with stringent SLA requirements.
  • Reporting and Insights: Checkly provides comprehensive reports and dashboards that offer insights into the historical performance and reliability of your web application. These insights can be used to demonstrate compliance with SLAs during stakeholder reviews and to identify areas for improvement.

To find out more about Checkly’s browser checks & how to get started, check out this article.

Checkly Best Practices

If you’re using Checkly, here are some best practices that will help you make sure you’re doing everything you can to adhere to your SLAs.

The impact of check frequency on your SLAs:

Integrating Into Your Existing Workflow

Checkly enables you to monitor your SLAs by allowing you to monitor services closely and check how they perform worldwide in over 20 locations. You get instant alerts when there's any issue, helping you react quickly to fix it. The platform keeps an eye on services all the time and adjusts to new needs or changes. 

Checkly integrates on-call tools like PagerDuty and Opsgenie for handling problems, and you can also set up your own connections with webhooks. This helps fix issues fast and keeps things running smoothly. 

Moreover, Checkly can integrate with your continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, allowing for automated checks to run as part of your development process. This ensures that any changes to your services maintain or improve compliance with SLA requirements before deployment to production.

Checkly makes it easier for organizations to set up their monitoring in a way that meets their needs, looks after their services everywhere, and keeps their standards high by quickly dealing with any problems that come up.


To put it simply, knowing what SLA, SLO, and SLI mean is really important for anyone working with services, whether you're providing the service, working within a team, or you're the customer.

  • SLIs are like measuring how well your service is doing, similar to checking your health.
  • SLOs are like your health goals, giving you something to aim for in how well your service should work.
  • SLAs make everything official, giving both the service provider and the customer clear rules and protection under the law for what the service should be like.

Think of these three terms as the basic parts you need for managing a service that's responsible, high-quality, and always getting better.

Whether you use them on their own or together, they help make sure you're offering a great service and always looking to do better.

Checkly can become your most valuable partner in achieving your SLIs, SLOs, and SLAs. Schedule a customized demo to find out how.

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