Cloud providers ready to strike with nuclear option

Cloud services come with a new risk: terms of use that allow your supplier to pull the plug on your site with little warning

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Maybe that sounds excessively pessimistic. But it's worth noting that PayPal didn’t take action against WikiLeaks; it moved against the Wau Holland Foundation, a nonprofit that had been supporting WikiLeaks as one of several activities driven by its charter. It's becoming quite common for DMCA notices to incur collateral damage, like the one that blacked out 1.5 million educational blogs over a disputed student handout. As the media industry's war on fair use grows, we can expect more laws to be passed that have more collateral effects -- all excused by terms of use.

Learn self-defense

What can you do to minimize your risks? In the final analysis, not much; this problem is underacknowledged and overdue for attention. But you can try to apply three principles to your situation.

First and foremost, you need a commitment (backed with substantial penalties) that your provider will never take your service offline intentionally without a substantiated and validated court order, whether you are notified in advance or not. Phrases like "at our absolute discretion" are a red flag. It's your infrastructure and your discretion that matters. Until there's proof of judicial review, no service should be rescinded without the provider being penalized. Seek providers willing to make that commitment, or if you have the negotiating power, ensure your contract includes this idea and supercedes the terms of use.

Secondly, ensure your provider is not a monoculture. Select providers that deploy open source software in documented ways, so you always have the freedom to leave. Avoid solutions where the only company enjoying software freedom is your provider. Favor open source software which is community-backed rather than controlled by your provider. Your provider may be concerned that you are escaping its lock-in and charge you more, but it's worth paying extra to get the additional value software freedom creates.

Finally, create a backup plan for how you would operate the service in the event your provider suspends its agreements with you. Consider having a backup provider or even a "private cloud" available and keep copies of your runtime environment in VMs ready for deployment. That may seem like a lot of effort and expense to cover a fairly remote possibility, but when you outsource all or part of your business to the cloud, you don't want to cede the freedom to run your business in the bargain.

This article, "Cloud providers ready to strike with nuclear option," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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