A Sidekick In The Pants

T-Mobile Sidekick users have been suffering through a major outage since the beginning of October which left many without access to the Web or their address books.

Background

The Sidekick is a 3G phone but primarily is marketed as an always-connected e-mail, text, and personal scheduling device. One of the Sidekick’s key features is that all of your information is stored in the cloud so that you don’t need to worry about backing it up – and apparently most people believed this and didn’t make local backups. In fact, T-Mobile tells you that, “Whenever you take a photo, enter a contact, make a diary note or send/receive your e-mail, the information is backed up to a password protected area of the Web. You can use this Web area to manage your diary, view photos and so on. And crucially, if your Sidekick Slide ever gets lost, it forms a restorable backup.”

One More Thing

Today, T-Mobile and the Sidekick data services provider, Danger, a subsidiary of Microsoft, reached out to express their apologies regarding the recent Sidekick data service disruption and, like Steve Jobs, they had one more thing to tell their customers. The one more thing was, “that personal information stored on your device – such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos – that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger.”

Apparently there was a meltdown in the Danger/Microsoft cloud, and everyone’s data is toast. Any information which is not currently in your Sidekick is gone and if it’s still there now, but you turn it off or the battery dies, it will be gone. As T-Mobile puts it, “We continue to advise customers to NOT reset their device by removing the battery or letting their battery drain completely, as any personal content that currently resides on your device will be lost.” In other words, something went very wrong in their data center and they apparently don’t have backups to recover your data.

A web search for software to backup a Sidekick came up with nothing. Apparently no backup software exists for the device since everything is backed up to the cloud. You can move phone numbers into your SIM (but not the rest of your contact information) and photos can be moved to a memory card. As for your other data, too bad – it cannot be backed up except to the cloud.

And What Did We Learn From This?

This is a teachable moment, and the lesson is that you cannot rely on anyone but yourself to backup your data. I hope that you didn’t have any irreplaceable information on your device, because you now need to replace it. The Palm Pre works in a similar manner, storing your information in the cloud – and if you have one of these devices, you might want to ask Palm how you would go about making a local backup of the information which is on it.

The Danger outage comes just a month before Microsoft is expected to launch its operating system in the cloud called Windows Azure, but even though Microsoft owns Danger, the Sidekick uses an architecture Microsoft inherited rather than built. However, before you look at Azure, or any other cloud solution, you should read my post titled Cloud Computing – Who’s watching your back? which gives you a list of questions to ask your cloud provider to help you with your risk analysis before moving your data outside of your own infrastructure.

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1 Comment to “A Sidekick In The Pants”

  • tuomoks says:

    So, someone didnt do risk analysis, (business) security and capacity planning? In one way or other this has been a common trend lately? MS has owned Danger long enough to fix the system to tolerate this kind of outages, I think! And T-Mobile didnt do their part either. After years (and years) creating NonStop(tm), non-stop, failsafe, hot and cold distributed, even global systems I just dont get it – losing (internal or external) customer information is definitely a no, no and priority for any successful business, or at least should be. Maybe the (business) rules have changed? And maybe we all, not just corporations, should get a SLA every time for any new gadget?

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