Cloud Computing, Software Programs, Technology Security

Good news, bad news for T-Mobile SideKick users

There was the good news and bad news from Roz Ho, Corporate Vice President, Premium Mobile Experiences about the recent crisis involving SideKick’s customers? data.

Ms. Ho’s press release said "We are pleased to report that we have recovered most, if not all, customer data for those Sidekick customers whose data was affected by the recent outage. We plan to begin restoring users’ personal data as soon as possible, starting with personal contacts, after we have validated the data and our restoration plan."

The really bad news from Ms. Ho is that Microsoft "determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up."

T-mobile’s SideKick is looking like a client-server approach applied to mobile handsets, rather than the trustworthy, only a click away, always available, off-site "cloud" for data storage, that T-Mobile’s marketing spin promised.

So why wasn’t Danger’s SideKick data running in the "cloud"? Supposedly the "cloud" means that the data files are replicated at multiple data centers. If Microsoft/Danger’s environment had been a real "cloud" solution, then the single system failure would not have taken out all of SideKick’s real-time DBMS [database management systems] applications and hardware.

The Microsoft/Danger environment to support Sidekick users was built using an Oracle Real Application Cluster, storing its data in a SAN (storage area network) so that the information would be available to a cluster of high availability Sun servers. This approach is expressly designed to be resilient to hardware failure. It is obvious that Sidekick’s active databases and their back-ups were in the same data-center.

The perfect storm conditions for this failure also goes back to the design of the handset. Sharp built the SideKick without adequate internal data storage like the Apple iPhone, T-Mobile Android G1, and Palm Pre have. Thus, Sidekick users were told the "cloud" would always be available, that their data would be safe in the "cloud". The only way to synch SideKick’s data to a PC is by purchasing a third party application. That application goes out to the cloud and synchs the data to Outlook on a windows PC. There was a version for the Mac, but it was discontinued.

The blogosphere is buzzing with rumors of everything from Microsoft failing to maintain trained staff at Danger who understood a UNIX/Linux-based system, to suggestions that the outage and the inability to recover any backups were the result of intentional sabotage by a disgruntled employee. Appleinsider has a whole list of potential reasons for the failure. Some are plausible and other are very speculative.

Now many questions are being asked about the multi-million dollar data centers Microsoft is building. Microsoft is now emphasizing that the data loss, and the problems that led to it, were limited to a segment of the company’s network that is separate from its core cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft spokesperson Tonya Klause in an e-mail told the LA Times "The Danger Service platform, which experienced the outage, is a standalone service operating on non-Microsoft technologies, and is not related to Microsoft’s cloud services platform or Windows Live."

She pointed out, "Our other and future Microsoft mobile products and services are entirely based on Microsoft technologies and Microsoft’s cloud service platform and software."

This fiasco will clearly hurt Microsoft’s credibility as a data center manger. Their immediate problem is that they are bidding against Google for a large contract.

The plan by the City of Los Angeles is to replace its Novell GroupWise e-mail and Microsoft Office applications with Google Apps. Under the $7.25 million plan, the city will transition about 30,000 users to Google’s e-mail and office productivity products by the end of December 2009. Microsoft had hoped to convince the city that they had an alternative solution.

City officials have said that they expect the move will save Los Angeles more than $13 million in software licensing and manpower costs over the next five years. The Los Angeles ITA [Information Technology Agency], which oversees technology implementations in the city, said the city is still committed to implementing Google Apps. If approved, Los Angeles will become the second major city after Washington, D.C. to migrate its applications to Google’s cloud infrastructure.

The folks at T-Mobile are obviously going to loose customers over the SideKick mess. There are already at least two lawsuits started in northern California. This ongoing saga reminds us of the mythical Sisyphus. Sisyphus was compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down again, forcing him to begin anew. These problems won’t be easily pushed aside by Microsoft/Danger, Hitachi Data Systems, EMS, and T-Mobile.

We bet that Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company in Germany, is probably asking a lot of questions about who signed off on SideKick’s single point of failure approach to data storage. The unfortunate truth is that new companies appear on the market and promise the world and occasionally, big players bet on the companies and stumble. For instance, Microsoft had a lot of issues when it acquired Hotmail. But being big and building house solutions is not solid as a rock either; even "can’t go wrong" Google recently started to experience a lot of Gmail and Apps outtages [the irony: after Gmail service exited its beta, Ed.].