Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Blow to Cloud Computing

i'm not putting my data in there Yesterday Microsoft made headlines not for adorable commercials or something Steve Ballmer did, but for permanently losing the data of over a million users.

In 2008, Microsoft purchased a company called Danger. Danger is in charge of all the data for T-Mobile’s Sidekick, a smartphone that stores all of its data on Danger’s servers. The data is not permanently stored anywhere on the phone itself – in the event that the Sidekick crashes, it must contact Danger’s servers and re-download all of your contacts and calendars and other info.

The way the Sidekick does things is in apposition to the behavior of Blackberry phones or the iPhone, which can store data on remote servers in some cases but primarily store data internally and on your PC.

The Sidekickr sounds great, though, right? If you get your phone backed over by a car or drop it in the ocean, not to worry! Your data is safe somewhere else. Unless it isn’t.

A couple of Fridays ago, Microsoft employees set out to upgrade the Sidekick servers without making a backup and without putting any other customary safeguards in place – the worst happened, and as a result, all the data on those servers is gone. Permanently. Forever.

One anonymous tipster (admittedly talking to an Apple enthusiast site) claims that the servers may have been sabotaged, and that the Microsoft higher-ups running the Danger division “are beyond clueless” about the way that the Sidekick servers worked. Not the kind of people you would entrust with important information.

Whether those allegations are true or not, this is a serious setback for the Cloud Computing movement, which emphasizes the storage of data on remote servers like Microsoft’s as opposed to keeping it on your own computer. While I don’t see this single catastrophe killing either Google’s upcoming Chrome OS or Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Azure, this news definitely puts a damper on my enthusiasm about cloud computing, and I expect to see at least two expensive lawsuits against Microsoft (one from T-Mobile, one class action from Sidekick users) as a result.

The point of cloud computing is data security and ubiquity – you are supposed to be able to access your stuff from any device anywhere, and if your computer breaks that’s not a big deal because your data is someone else’s problem, tucked away safely in a well-run server room. It goes without saying that failures like this completely defeat the purpose.

If you have thoughts on this particular catastrophe or about Cloud Computing in general, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section.