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Sidekick Users Burned by Danger in the Cloud

By Erika Morphy
Oct 12, 2009 11:56 AM PT

Users of T-Mobile's smartphone, the Sidekick, suddenly found themselves without address books, calendars, to-do lists and photos -- data that the carrier had been maintaining through a subsidiary of Microsoft called "Danger," which hosts back-end services for mobile companies.

Sidekick Users Burned by Danger in the Cloud

T-Mobile is assessing the situation to see what content, if any, can be retrieved, according to a statement on its Web site -- but that likelihood is very low unless the data was also stored on the device itself. The loss was due to a server failure at Danger Microsoft, Krista Berlincourt of Waggener Edstrom, speaking on behalf of T-Mobile, told TechNewsWorld.

Danger did not return a call from TechNewsWorld by publication time.

A FAQ page on T-Mobile's site offers guidance to users while service is being restored. Among other things, it advises users not to reset their phones or remove their batteries.

Irreplaceable Loss

In addition to the possibility of losing irreplaceable content such as photos, Sidekick users are likely to face a multi-step hassle when reconnecting, depending on how many of the Danger-provided services they used.

For example, those who want to reconnect to third-party email providers will have to delete all email accounts installed prior to the data disruption and then add them back again.

There are also instructions for users who want to copy address book entries to a SIM card, as well as transferring entries from a SIM card to the device.

One FAQ asks the obvious: Will this happen again? Answer: We hope not.

"We are working very closely with Danger/Microsoft to restore services at this time, once Sidekick customers have services restored we will be partnering to ensure that we can prevent this type of service disruption from happening," reads the reply.

Sidekick users cannot be blamed for being irate -- one of the Sidekick's selling points was that it could automatically retrieve data from the cloud after a phone reset. There was no need, theoretically, to back up manually.

Smartphones in the Cloud

This argument is also a selling point for cloud computing -- apart from the lack of a backup system, which is never recommended. It is doubtful that enterprise applications and other services provided through the cloud will experience backlash from this episode.

Other smartphones that offer services through the cloud, though, just might.

The failure of Danger's servers may wind up being one of the worst incidents in cloud computing's young history, Andrew Michael, CEO of Livedrive, told TechNewsWorld.

"There is little that Sidekick users can do," he said. "Photos can be saved to a memory card and then copied to a computer, but the rest of the data is online."

Sidekick appears to be among the heaviest users of cloud computing services. It differs from other smartphones in that respect, Allen Nogee, principal analyst with In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

Not that other carriers shun the cloud -- most networks do leverage it in some manner, he added.

However, there are signs that mobile operators have been increasing their reliance on cloud computing for various reasons. Whether this event will reverse that trend is unclear.

"We are seeing more operators storing personal data for customers in the cloud -- largely because they are trying to create sticky relationships with their customers," said Dan Shey, practice director of mobile services at ABI Research.

Especially in the enterprise that tends to use complex mobile device management services, "issues like having to transfer contacts could be a huge pain," Shey told TechNewsWorld.

The Sidekick was primarily a consumer play, of course, but Shey said it appeared T-Mobile was positioning it to pick up some business use if it could.

It was beefed up to become more messaging-centric, with IM and mobile email making the device a candidate for business customer adoption, he pointed out.

"Regardless of business or consumer use, loss of personal information is not good and will not help T-Mobile's efforts of pulling in the small mobile business customer who would use it for personal and business reasons," he said.

Finally, this event does not help any carrier that is trying to build stickiness with customers by storing their personal information in the cloud, he added.

Indeed, the potential for such failure is one reason Livedrive keeps data locally on the user's PC as well as on its servers, Michael said.

"Our infrastructure is very secure," he maintained, "but we want our users to have the reassurance of knowing that they can get at their files even if they can't connect to the Internet for any reason."

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