When the Cloud Fails: T-Mobile, Microsoft Lose Sidekick Customer Data

If you’ve ever been curious about what would happen when a cloud service fails, then you don’t have to wonder any longer. Earlier today, customers of T-Mobile and Sidekick data services provider Danger, a subsidiary of Microsoft, lost access to all their data. Some believe that this data wipeout is because of a botched upgrade. Why it happened matters little to those who are unlikely to get their data back, according to a note posted on T-Mobile forums.

Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger’s latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you 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. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.

Danger’s service works in a very simple fashion. The devices are in constant communication with a server which does everything from checking email to fetching web pages and maintaining contact with all the folks we know on instant-messaging networks. It also keeps copies of other communications (such as text messages), address books and calendars. It stores photos on its servers as well. In short, what we have is a device that is a combination of a cell phone and an almost dumb terminal.

This wipeout reminds me of “The Bourne Identity,” where Jason Bourne spends the entire length of the book trying to find out his real identity because his memory has been wiped out due to an accident. T-Mobile and Danger have done something like that. By losing the servers, what they have done is the equivalent of wiping out the collective memory of its customers.

T-Mobile is advising customers not to reset their device by removing their batteries or letting their batteries drain out, because if that happens, then all the information that is local to the device is going to be wiped out as well.

This development highlights the many risks we face as we romp into our cloud-centric future. And it’s just one of the many setbacks we have faced in recent months. The Google Mail outage seems like a bad dream compared with this nightmare. After all, Google didn’t actually lose our emails. But in this case, many may have no option to go back to square one — and start over.