One of the biggest blunders in our tech history took place over the last week. This blunder, an embarrassment for three large tech companies, is, I dare say, an unprecedented one in a commercial environment. Something that, at least two of the companies involved have preached to consumers over the years, is so basic, one must wonder why in the world it did not happen and why there was nothing at all. And, in the end, raises the question about how safe the ‘cloud’ really is.
I speak, of course, of the T-Mobile/Microsoft/Hitachi debacle that has taken place over the last few days. Specifically, the initial loss of service for Sidekick owners and then the ensuing loss of data for those who turned off or allowed the devices to power down. The problem turned out to be a botched upgrade of the Sidekick SAN. Microsoft had outsourced that work to Hitachi. Hitachi, for whatever reason, apparently did not make or ensure that there were backups available before proceeding with the work. Or, at least, so it seems.
Something went wrong and data was lost. Apparently, ALL of the Sidekick user data was lost. Now, this begs the question: who in hell does that happen? Which, in turn, makes one ask even more questions: what happened to the back up process? What happened to old backups? Was there even a backup methodology? Did T-Mobile have copies of the data? Did the consumer have any means to backup (I’m not a Sidekick user, but I would imagine there is a way) and why didn’t Hitachi make sure there was a good backup and/or do their own before proceeding? Whatever the answers are, the biggest question of all is this: can I really trust that some entity is going to care for my data?
Perhaps the biggest issue here is not pointing a finger at any one person or company-there is more than enough blame to spread to all of them-but to point out just how fragile the whole ‘cloud’ computing platform really is, at least, at this point in time. Losing your data is far worse than not being able to get online.
Data replication and backup are going to be key for this model to succeed. Local storage and online storage should go hand in hand. On a recent podcast, ‘This Week in Tech’ I believe, several panelists were arguing that there was really little need now for large hard disks in the home. The ‘cloud’ would be able to maintain the data (photos were the subject of the conversation) and you’d not need it at home. After all, what do you do with the photos? Making them available on line for others to view is better than keeping on some hard disk. Fair enough, but keeping them locally AND an online service is better.
Also telling was the manner in which this story has been reported. Many stories have been balanced and did not have sensationalistic headlines. One story, however, did. And it came from someone that I recently wrote about: Ina Fried. Again, I generally appreciate her work. I have found her to be among the more balanced writers at CNet when it comes to Microsoft. However, her headline “Sidekick outage casts cloud over Microsoft” seems to be a bit over the top. She starts out by stating that the massive data failure would cast a dark cloud over the company’s ‘software plus services’. Well, no it does not. The Danger problem has nothing to do with ‘software plus services’. Oh, sure, there may be a few uneducated executives who will interpret it the way Fried says, but, I believe more of them are more educated than that. In fact, I think most will say ‘Oh ____! That could be us!”.
And, it could be any company out there. Google, Yahoo!, Apple, Research in Motion and others could all fall victim to something like this. How many times have you proceeded to do something, thinking you had properly done everything you needed to do, only to have something go wrong and then discover that you missed a step? No one is perfect and no company is perfect. I cannot begin to count the number of photos I have lost because I did not back them up and the drive they were on went bad. I back them up now. In multiple places. And some, the better ones, on line as well. Its called redundancy.
Consumers, as well, share a certain amount of responsibility for that data loss. If you rely on a service for all of your backup, then you are just as responsible for that data loss.