T-Mobile Data Loss a Setback for Clouds?

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News of a massive data loss affecting T-Mobile Sidekick users could be a setback for the nascent cloud computing market (see Why Cloud Storage Use Could Be Limited in Enterprises).

T-Mobile said data services for the smartphone provided by Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Danger subsidiary were disrupted as a result of a server failure at Microsoft, and any data that wasn’t stored on users’ Sidekick may be lost.

In a statement, the company said:

“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.”

The statement told users not to remove their battery, reset their Sidekick or allow it to lose power during the service disruption.

Cloud services providers such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) have suffered outages in the past, but the T-Mobile-Microsoft incident is a rare case of significant data loss in such an event.

One report circulating attributed the data loss to a failure to back up before Hitachi upgraded the Sidekick SAN.

Greg Schulz, senior analyst and founder of StorageIO Group, said the incident may not be a setback for the cloud as much as it is “a wake-up call and realization that cloud IT still involves physical servers, storage, I/O networks, software, people, processes and best practices. Granted, there have been some well-publicized stories of outages, downtime or data loss, of which supporters decry as making too much noise about them, however, given the high profile and marketing focus around clouds, any issue or outage is sure to be a lightning rod of attention.”

Schulz said the answer for individual users is simple — have more than one copy of your data.

“It’s time for some CDP — that is, commonsense data protection — meaning that if you put data into the cloud, have a copy somewhere else,” Schulz said. “Likewise, if you only have local copies of data, put a copy elsewhere, such as a cloud/MSP/BaaS or other provider, meaning use multiple techniques and tools to provide data availability and accessibility.”

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse both T-Mobile and Microsoft could be damaged by the incident.

“I don’t know how T-Mobile or Microsoft is going to come out of this looking anything but bruised,” Whitehouse said. “This is the type of stuff the general population takes for granted when they leverage services that rely on behind-the-scenes resources… We all just go about our business assuming that the important stuff is being tended too. When we find out it’s not, we are rightfully outraged. However, we have little recourse other than to drop the service and bad-mouth the vendor culprit regarding our misfortune.”

“I find it crazy that they don’t have backup in place,” she added. “If they did, they may have never tested recovery to verify backup was doing what it was supposed to. I’m sure heads will roll for this one — the person responsible for backup, and maybe the guy who bungled the SAN upgrade which started the chain of events. Whoever is in charge over there needs to seriously review all processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The damage to both companies’ reputation and trust with its customers may be irreparable.”

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for Time.com, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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