Don’t let cloud providers kick you off like United

Cloud contracts are as one-sided as airline tickets’ terms. Enterprises will learn that soon enough, but they also have hidden power they should use

As everyone knows, last week a United Airlines passenger was asked to deplane because the airline overbooked and needed his seat for a staff member, then was dragged off the plane by Chicago airport cops when he refused to leave. Yes, the passenger didn’t follow the rules, but the situation ultimately was United’s fault.

Believe it or not, what happened at United is an object lesson for any business that signs up for cloud services. I’ll explain shortly.

Back in 2007, I boarded a United flight that was overbooked, and I was asked to deplane as a result. It was inconvenient and humiliating. However, I didn't go limp, and the cops didn't drag me bleeding off the flight.

Most airline employees, whether at United or another carrier, robotically follow procedures and rules. In the case of last week’s passenger, who didn’t believe he could be forced off the flight because he had a paid ticket, the employees didn’t try to solve the problem, such as by asking for a volunteer or trying to solve the passenger’s concerns (he had patients to treat the next day back home). They did what the procedures said and called the cops.

The airline adhered to the contract of the ticket purchase, which basically give passengers no rights. But being legally correct isn’t the point. It’s all about how you treat customers when the system stops working correctly for them, even if that unwanted behavior is “legal” or within the contract.

The contracts you sign with public cloud providers are similar to the contracts in an airline ticket: They’re one-sided in favor of the provider, with many limitations and the right for the cloud provider to kick you off its cloud. When you operate automated systems at such scale, you can’t deal with all the desires and special circumstances of each customer. At least, you don’t think you can, which is why cloud and airline contracts are so one-sided.

IT organizations haven’t yet experienced the cloud equivalent of being asked to deplane. But wait until enterprises have migrated 25 to 40 percent of their workloads to the cloud—and begin to stress the resources of the public cloud.

At that point, we’ll see enterprises make more demands on their public cloud providers, and we’ll see the providers push back, citing the contracts and even kicking some enterprises off the public cloud per those contract’s terms.

But as in the case of United, cloud providers that mindlessly implement their contract terms (and kick enterprises off their cloud services for whatever reasons the contract permits) won’t be in the right. It makes no difference what the rules say: Public perception will play a huge role, and the cloud provider will lose. The backlash, and major stock price hit, that United experienced last week is a cautionary example.

Enterprises need to understand they have leverage, even with the one-sided cloud contracts they've signed. An enterprise’s opinion of its cloud provider is powerful in and of itself, and enterprises that have issues with providers can go public with those issues—usually they find that the issues quickly go away as the provider does damage control, no matter what the contract says.

The new world order is one of perception. Cloud providers can try to fight it all they want, but even if they win, they’ll lose in the end. Enterprises should be aware of their new power and use it when needed.