January 27, 2011, 4:40 PM — Microsoft is redefining what it means to plan in the cloud-computing world by offering a guarantee it won't end or substantively change a service customers are already using without letting them know at least a year ahead of time.
The promise addresses the central risk and benefit of cloud computing.
A customer can turn massive power on at any time, but the vendor can cut off the service at any time, too, if it decides there's no profit in it.
Without some kind of guarantee the service won't go away suddenly, most companies are reluctant to put anything important in the cloud they expect to still be using a year later.
It's rare for a cloud provider to change or end a service, because it is the product for which they charge. But there's nothing in most cases keeping them from drastically changing a particular service by converting a "private cloud" service that allows customers to remain alone on the servers they use to a model that requires them to run their apps and data on virtual machines running on hardware used by others as well.
That's a common model, but violates security requirements for some government agencies and others with strict guidelines.
Microsoft's new guarantee is designed to address customers' fears of exactly that, by promising to give at least a year's notice before making "disruptive" changes, and promise to preserve customer data for at least 30 days after a customer decides to move off a service.
In addition to drastic changes in services contained in the cloud, Microsoft includes things such as a required upgrade in its Exchange Hosted Services that might require customers to change the in-house Outlook or Exchange setups that connect to the cloud version.
Microsoft's guarantee is six times as long as Amazon's, which preserves the right to "terminate this Agreement in its entirety (and, accordingly, cease providing all Services to you), for any reason or for no reason, at our discretion at any time by providing you sixty (60) days advance notice." (Scroll down to Section 3.3.2.)
Once a service is terminated, whether because you quit paying for it or they stopped providing it, Amazon promises not to do anything intentionally to erase any of your data. It doesn't make any promises, though and, of course "applicable Service data storage charges will continue to accrue." (Sect. 3.71.)
It's unusual to compare two vendors and find Microsoft is the more reassuring, especially when you're talking about products being killed, or with licensing and legal issues.