Blog Post

Recapping SLOconf 2022: SLOs are for everyone!

Made and led by site reliability engineers, SLOconf was designed for while-you're-working participation. This blog recaps the key highlights of SLOconf 2022.

Did you get to attend the excellent SLOconf last month? With four different tracks and over 60 talks - covering everything from defining an SLO to the financial framing of error budgets, you, like us, may have missed a couple of things. In this handy recap, we take you through some of the juiciest sessions and point you to a few you may have overlooked. Luckily, SLOconf 2022 was designed for while-you’re-working participation and all the talks are still available.

SLOconf 2022: SLO FUNdamentals

The appropriately named SLO FUNdamentals track was designed to introduce newbies to SLO-based approaches and their practical application. What exactly is an SLO? Simply put, it's an agreed level of service that a business intends to deliver to its customers. One quick learning: striving for perfection is futile and aiming to be good enough most of the time is the holy grail of SLO.

Our own Leo Vasiliou, primary analyst and author of the SRE Survey and Report, puts it nicely in his talk about setting SLOs for cumulative endpoints. "When setting your accumulative based service level objectives, go easy on yourself - we are all more tolerable to the little blips and hiccups than you think."

However, a talk entitled "Defining SLOs When You Don't Know Anything About SLOs" from IAG’s Gwen De Leon and Stephen Townshend encapsulates how challenging defining SLOs can be. They walk through an extensive SLO definition workshop conducted at IAG as an experiment to help teams embed a customer focus into their SLOs. In it, they try to find answers to the big SLO questions - SLOs or SLIs - which one comes first? How do organizations around the world implement them? For anyone new to SLOs, this is a terrific way to get into the belly of the beast.

A deep dive into all things SLO

The SLO Stories track delves into real-life SLO successes and failures, while The Future of SLO track furthers the conversation and ramps up the complexity. Dotan Horovits presents an ambitious open-source project called OpenTelemetry with the promise of a unified framework for collecting observability data. Julie Gunderson and Mandi Walls, meanwhile, discuss Chaos Engineering and demonstrate practical ways to ensure compliance and resilience with SLOs.

SLOs for everyone?

The sausages in Erik Morgan's profile picture could make you pause, however. Indeed, scattered across the list of engineers in the track "SLOs for everyone" are people you don't expect to see at a tech conference. Jennifer Robertson is a speech-language pathologist. Erik is a professional chef. What are a speech-language pathologist and a chef bringing to this SLO party?

"I'm no expert," Erik starts casually in his talk, "SLOs? I barely know the acronym." But by the time he's finished relating anecdotes about averting small and large catastrophes in the kitchen, you realize he's perfectly illustrated error creep management, albeit in the context of a restaurant kitchen. The penny drops - SLOs aren't just the remit of SRE and DevOps engineers – they really are for everyone.

Through his trademark storytelling, Nobl9's Alex Hidalgo fleshes out the idea that every business uses SLOs to some extent. Talking of his time working in a restaurant, he says, "We were using service level objectives before the term was invented the way we use it in the tech world. They're common approaches - every business uses them to some extent."

A growing trend

The State of Service Level Objectives 2022 survey only backs Alex up. SLO adoption has grown. Eighty-two percent of companies using SLOs plan on increasing their use. And this increase is not just being seen in purely IT operations. The research shows that increasingly business teams, including executives, manufacturing, R&D, marketing and finance, are employing SLOs. This trend is supported by the overwhelming 94% of companies surveyed who intend to map SLOs directly to business operations.

Using SLO in business operations

How can one use SLO in everyday business practices? Keri Melich picks up the baton and runs with it in an inspiring talk called "Growing Business Operations through SLOs." In her talk, she looks at SLOs from the perspective of everyone except an engineer. Not only is she convinced that she can get you to use SLOs in your personal life, she outlines actionable ways in which legal teams, HR departments, customer support, and sales and marketing teams can incorporate SLOs.

"SLOs are just such a great interdepartmental translation tool. And they're not just limited to engineers conversing with other departments - it could totally be the other way around too." Keri Melich, Growing Business Operations through SLOs.

SLO tips

How can you implement SLO based approaches in your specific operations? Isobel Redelmeier provided three tips in her talk, “SLOs for the New Dog Owner”:

  • SLOs should be informed by your customers but set by you.
  • Use error budgets to adjust thresholds and make future releases safer.
  • Set an appropriate incident response - have a tolerance level; not everything is life or death.

In “Reliability Lessons from the Back of a Bicycle: 100% is Never the Goal”, Michael Ericksen provides more pearls of wisdom:

  • A service level indicator should be easy to understand.
  • A service level objective should be based on reality.
  • A service level objective should be specific to your organizational context.

Summing up SLOconf 2022, one thing is for sure, whether you're a seasoned SRE or a chef – you use SLOs whether you're aware of it or not. There is an art to defining and implementing SLOs, and not doing so can make or break your business. They're an excellent tool for staying on track with goals and embedding a customer-focused approach, whoever that customer may be – from your client to your two-year-old. SLOs for everyone? Count us in.

Want to illuminate the condition of SRE?

If you’re interested in shaping the future of reliability, grab a glass of bourbon or a cup of chai and take 9 minutes to complete the SRE Survey 2022

Findings will be published in our fifth annual SRE Report and distributed to all those who participate. All contributions will be aggregated and kept confidential.

For every survey taken, Catchpoint, in partnership with Blameless, will donate $5 to the International Red Cross and Girls Who Code.

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