October 10, 2009

Microsoft's "Cloudburst" - Spectacular Data Loss Drowns Sidekick Users

Greetings. In one of those "How the bloody hell could this happen?" moments that had damn well better be a wake-up call for the computer industry, it appears that T-Mobile's Sidekick mobile users have been, well, "kicked in the side" by a massive and apparently permanent data loss at the servers that provide the data foundation for the entire Sidekick system.

While Sidekick mobile services are marketed by T-Mobile, the critical behind-the-scenes server functionality is provided by the (seemingly aptly named) "Danger" subsidiary of Microsoft.

The Sidekick service has been unstable for some days, and it now appears that -- stunningly -- all Sidekick user data that had resided on the servers, that wasn't currently also present on the Sidekick devices themselves, has likely been permanently lost. Users are being warned not to remove device batteries or let their batteries run down, or else any local data will also vanish -- the Microsoft/Danger network remains unstable, and devices are not being backed up to the net. This includes contacts, to-do lists, calendar entries, photos -- the whole enchilada.

This is obviously an incredibly dramatic systems failure, that by all expected standards should have been impossible.

Some observers are suggesting that such a breakdown is a condemnation of the entire "cloud computing services" concept.

I definitely would not go that far. Cloud computing has enormous promise. But, and this is one gigantic "but" -- only when such services are reliable both in terms of uptime and particularly relating to data protection, privacy, and security. As increasing numbers of individuals and organizations move their operations to cloud-based services, the impact of system failures can be enormous.

Another important related risk is being "locked into" particular cloud services. Most cloud computing services make it as simple as possible to get your data into their universe. But getting your data out again can often be anything but trivial. If your data is "trapped in the cloud" and something goes wrong, it can be a very serious double whammy indeed.

There are positive ways to proceed. Google, for example, a leader in cloud computing, has recently launched a specific project -- The Data Liberation Front -- explicitly including as a key facet the goal of making sure that users can quickly and easily export data from Google products. This ambitious and extremely important effort should be a model for the rest of the cloud computing industry.

The Sidekick/Microsoft/Danger "Cloudburst" -- as bad as it has been -- can still be a very valuable "teachable moment" in the short but already crucial evolution of cloud computing.

A sustained failure to learn from such events could very much "rain" on cloud computing's parade -- and on many other aspects of the computing and telecommunications industries as well.


Posted by Lauren at October 10, 2009 09:36 PM | Permalink
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