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12 October 2009, 14:17

Loss of Sidekick data casts shadow on cloud services

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T-Mobile has temporarily stopped selling Sidekick devices in the US.
Over the weekend, US mobile phone provider T-Mobile USA announced that some of its Sidekick service customers have, most likely irretrievably, lost their personal data. In the US, T-Mobile has sold approximately 1 million Sidekick devices, which handle services like push emails, internet access or photo albums exclusively via the servers of Microsoft subsidiary Danger. According to the New York Times, it's currently unclear how many customers have lost their data.

So far Microsoft/Danger and T-Mobile USA have not provided any information to explain the debacle. According to a report from Engadget, Danger outsourced an upgrade of its Sidekick Storage Area Network to Hitachi. Problems apparently occurred when the upgrade began and seem to have resulted in the data being deleted – Danger is reported to have no backups. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sidekick users had already experienced problems accessing their personal data more than a week ago. The Seattle Post Intelligencer also recently reported about a server failure at Danger on the 5th of October.

A T-Mobile spokesperson told the New York Times that the problem is unlikely to affect a majority of Sidekick customers. Although the data went missing on the server side, the Sidekick devices should still retain copies of users' addresses, calendar items, photos and to-do lists. Users who completely depleted their batteries or reset their devices, however, also lost these copies. The mobile telephony provider has now stopped selling Sidekick devices for the time being. To compensate, customers who have lost their data can use the Sidekick services free of charge for one month.

In cloud computing, the focus for computing power, application management and data storage is predominately on the servers, which are arrayed in grids and large server farms, rather than being handled by the customer’s client device. One of the stated advantages has been that users who lose their devices don't automatically lose their data, because the data is stored externally on a server. However, this advantage has now turned into a disadvantage for Sidekick users.

While Sidekick users may constitute a minority on the US smartphone market, the glitch could mean a loss of reputation for Microsoft, and a setback in its efforts to promote its external "cloud" data storage services. Microsoft will at least need to do some convincing if it wants to regain customers' trust. The vendor introduced its "Azure" cloud services at the Professional Developer Conference in late 2008, and announced the service pricing last summer. The service is officially scheduled to start next month. T-Mobile announced that it will release further information about the Sidekick issue by the end of today.


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