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T-Mobile and Microsoft: The Losers of Cloud Computing


Data loss underscores a paramount need for security.

A few years ago, I was employed as a web manager for two collaborative medical websites. The staffs were small, the offices humble, but the workload was very efficient. Despite the relative modesty of production and visitor traffic, security was of utmost importance. There wasn't a day that went by where the online content wasn't routinely backed up -- on and off-site -- or properly stored. System and server crashes were inevitable and the back-up tapes saved our hides more than a few times.

This was a small operation, not a global mobile network with more than one million clients depending on the information stored on our servers.

Despite having a collective 62 years of experience dealing with critical customer information, T-Mobile (DT), Microsoft (MSFT), and its recently acquired Danger Incorporated just discovered the hard way that routine back-ups are a good idea.

In the beginning of October, some T-Mobile Sidekick owners noticed that all data functionality began dropping from the mobile device. Contact information, calendar entries, and photos were among the bits of missing data lost on the unlucky customers' devices. Because the information is stored remotely -- not on the Sidekicks themselves -- customers were at the mercy of IT reps restoring the data server-side.

But fears were confirmed on Saturday, when T-Mobile announced that the disappearing data "almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger." Owners were warned to not "remove your battery, reset your Sidekick, or allow it to lose power" in the thin, fraction of a hope that the information could still be restored.

As of this publication, it hasn't been, and little else suggests it will be.

This bumbling error -- along with the recent outages at Google (GOOG), Facebook, and Twitter -- shines a spotlight on all of the online services with remote functionality that we use every day. If GMail fails to load, what do we have in its stead? When AT&T's (T) servers are "overloaded" and won't allow voicemails to appear on our iPhones (AAPL) until weeks later, how do we respond to irate and neglected callers?

Oftentimes, the answer is simple: Panic. With such tenuous online connectivity, it would seem that the risk of losing access to your laptop's hard drive is as high as losing access to online content.

But the implications extend beyond personal data loss.

Cloud computing represents an exciting and versatile method of storing and retrieving data from any access point. It signals an end to physical media, personal upgrades, and data incompatibility. But this is only achieved when the companies behind the data servers maintain the information properly and are prepared for the inevitable crash.

And with every blunder executed by an online data center, there's another disincentive for companies and investors to back such a "risky venture" -- thus delaying the bigger and better services that lie waiting in the wings.

However, if you look hard enough, there's a bright side to this.

The folks behind the servers will take that much extra care in securing their data so as not to emerge in the public eye with egg on their faces like the companies involved in the Sidekick disaster. Users will hopefully pay more attention to the sensitive information they're choosing to upload -- opting for more secure means of permanent storage.

And, of course, people everywhere will realize the biggest imperative: Back up your data. Because who knows if anyone else is.

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