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

It used to take a warrant, a sheriff's deputy, and an axe to chop down your door and stop your business dead. But the cloud makes it so much easier.

Today, if you rely heavily on a public cloud service provider, your entire business infrastructure could be taken offline without judicial review, useful explanation, or workable recourse, simply because a customer, a politician, or even a competitor claims there are issues with your -- or your customers' -- activities.

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This was one of the issues cited by commentators when Oracle's terms of use for its cloud services were disclosed last week. According to section 5.2:

If Oracle detects violation, or is contacted about a violation of, Oracle Cloud Services terms and conditions or acceptable use policy, Oracle will assign an investigating agent. The investigating agent may take actions including but not limited to suspension of user account access, suspension of administrator account access, or suspension of the environment until the issues are resolved.

Oracle isn't alone; every cloud provider has clauses like this. By way of example, have a look at these extracts from four other well-known providers. First up, Microsoft Azure terms:

We may suspend an online service in whole or in part ... if you do not abide by the Acceptable Use Policy section of these Online Services Use Rights or violate other terms of your Microsoft Online Subscription Agreement.

Rackspace (see section 9):

We may suspend the Services without liability if: (i) we reasonably believe that the Services are being used (or have been or will be used) in violation of the Agreement

Amazon Web Services states in section 1.4 of its terms:

... we may remove or disable access to any Prohibited Content without prior notice in connection with illegal content, where the content may disrupt or threaten the Services, pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or as required to comply with law or any judicial, regulatory or other governmental order or request.

Finally, Joyent's conditions:

Joyent may terminate or suspend your access to Joyent services at any time and for any reason without notice.

Of course, most of these "at our sole discretion" clauses are wrapped in varying degrees of customer protection. As a Rackspace representative explained to me, "Arbitrarily suspending a customer or treating our customer unfairly would do tremendous damage to our brand and our mission and we go to great lengths to avoid disappointing our customers." That's fair; Rackspace went to some effort to explain it would not take arbitrary action.

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