Sidekick foul-up is not a failure of the cloud
Unless you’ve been vacationing off the grid at a cabin in the Rockies for the past week, you are probably aware that the popular T-Mobile Sidekick appears to have lost the contact, calendar, and other synced information of its 1 million users.
It’s also hard to miss the number of articles and media sources that link the Sidekick failure with a failure of cloud computing in general. To be fair, not everything that is on the Internet is necessarily cloud computing, and not every cloud computing failure is indicative of a failure in cloud computing in general.
The Sidekick from T-Mobile was one of the first examples of a mobile device providing online backup of data. Ostensibly, the fact that photos, messages, contacts, and calendar entries were synced with servers on the Internet provided users with a safety net in the event that their Sidekick device was lost or stolen. Simply get a new device and sync it up with the online data backup. Voila!
Apparently someone forgot to consider what happens if it’s the server that loses the data rather than the Sidekick. A serious server crash at Danger, the provider of the Sidekick data syncing infrastructure, has forced thousands of Sidekick owners to answer that question the hard way. The answer is: the data is gone.
The loss of data is a huge embarrassment for T-Mobile and for Microsoft, which purchased Danger. The high-profile failure damages the credibility of both companies as it relates to providing stable and secure mobile service and data protection. However, the failure does not mean that the cloud can’t be trusted.
Server crashes happen. Temporary outages due to server crashes are tolerable. Data should never be lost though. It is basic network admin 101 to backup data. Network administrators should know that regular backups must be performed and that the integrity and availability of the backed up data must be periodically verified to ensure it can be restored when necessary.
There is no excuse for Danger to have been hosting data for 1 million users without having reliable data backups in place. I am going to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and assume that Danger was still operating more or less independently since the acquisition. I think Microsoft had not yet fully assimilated Danger and most likely assumed that Danger was capable of rudimentary server management tasks like backing up data.
The loss of Sidekick data is a failure by Danger to execute common sense server maintenance practices. By extension, the failure is also a failure of Microsoft to enforce sound network management policies were being followed, and of T-Mobile to ensure the vendors it partners with are capable of providing reliable service. It is not, however, a failure of the cloud.
When Google News or Gmail experience outages the media (myself included) cries that the cloud has failed. When Danger loses Sidekick data synced online from 1 million users, the media declares it another failure of the cloud.
But Google is not the cloud. Claiming that a failure by Google is a failure of cloud computing in general is like claiming that New Coke was a failure of all soft drinks. Declaring the loss of Sidekick data a failure of the cloud is like claiming that the failure of the Yugo was a failure of automobiles in general.
The problem for the cloud and the future of cloud computing is that perception is reality. Google is virtually synonymous with the Web, and to many average users, the Web and the cloud are synonymous. When a Web-based juggernaut like Google experiences an outage or a technology giant like Microsoft loses Sidekick data, it damages the credibility of the cloud. It doesn’t matter if that blame is accurate or not, it just is and the success of cloud computing depends on educating users to understand what the cloud is, what the cloud isn't, and how to choose a reliable cloud vendor.
It can be argued that many of the service outages and issues dubbed cloud failures by the media are not even really cloud computing. However, even for those that are the reality is that vendors fail, not the cloud. It is important when trusting data and applications to the cloud that you do your due diligence and select a vendor with a stable, reliable, and resilient network...and one that performs data backups on a regular basis as well.
[Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site.]