Perez Hilton's Sidekick agony: Microsoft Danger failure bursts a million clouds

Are you a T-Mobile customer who's lost all your data thanks to the recent epic failure of Microsoft's computer systems? Well, there may be hope. After one of the most embarrassing episodes in recent tech history -- when it looked like over a million T-Mobile customers had lost their personal information -- the mobile phone company now says it may be able to recover some of the lost data.

But the damage has already been done, and not just to the reputations of T-Mobile, which is owned by Deutsche Telekom (DT), and Microsoft (MSFT), but to the growing movement called "cloud computing," in which most data is stored on remote servers far from your PC or cell phone. While many tech Svengalis call cloud computing the future of the industry, the repeated failure of cloud systems threatens to delay or seriously harm that prospect.

As noted Hollywood blogger and longtime Sidekick loyalist Perez Hilton recently observed: "That is unacceptable!!!!!!!"
But there may be hope for Sidekick users who feared the worst -- losing everything. "Recent efforts indicate the prospects of recovering some lost content may now be possible," T-Mobile said, according to CNET News.com.

Traditionally, computer users stored most of their data -- documents, contacts, work materials -- on their work or home PCs, or on their mobile devices. With the increasing speed and reliability of broadband networks, however, many companies, including Google and Amazon, have begun offering services that allow users to store their data remotely on the company's servers, and then access it from anywhere using the internet.

As I wrote nearly two years ago, the term "cloud computing" is basically "a fancy buzzword that could only have been concocted in the brain of a public relations professional." Many regular people simply use the phrase "web services," or even "web-based services." Despite skepticism from many in the industry -- including Oracle honcho Larry Ellison, who has said of the term: "It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?" -- the cloud prophets continue to proselytize of a future when all the world's data is stored online.

There's just one problem: cloud computing systems keep failing -- and each new incident raises new questions about whether consumers should trust their valuable data to company servers located thousands of miles away. In recent years, cloud computing services from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have now failed. Just last month, Gmail -- Google's web-based email service -- suffered a major failure, one of several breakdowns experienced by the web search leader, which has been seeking to widen its business into servers and software.

Google clearly believes in the gospel of cloud computing -- it offers a suite of web-based services, called Google Docs -- but until cloud systems become more reliable, anyone who thinks these services will see widespread adoption, well, let's just say they've got their head in the clouds.

In last week's cloud debacle, Microsoft's Danger unit experienced a huge outage that left many T-Mobile Sidekick users without access to their calendars, emails, contacts and other data. Danger, which manufactures and supports the Sidekick, and which Microsoft purchased for $500 million in 2008, had stored all of that data in "the cloud."

Although the servers were restored late last week, data for over 1 million people had become corrupted or unrecoverable, T-Mobile said, issuing this harrowing statement.

"Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device – such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos – that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger."

There should be a sign that reads, "Danger: cloud computing," -- and the jokes have already begun. Microsoft's Brandy Bishop told The New York Times that engineers at the company "have been working 24 hours a day" to restore the data.

Perez Hilton, who relies on his T-Mobile sidekick to communicate with his top Hollywood sources, was particularly upset.

"Not being able to access our emails and phone numbers for AN ENTIRE WEEK has severely affected our ability to work and communicate with our friends and family!" Hilton wrote. "For us, our Sidekick has been an integral part of our work life for over four years now. And we're sure a lot of other people out there are in a similar situation."

While Microsoft and Danger sort out the data recovery, T-Mobile has offered aggrieved customers a $100 "customer appreciation card" good toward T-Mobile service or products.

"For those who fall into this category, details will be sent out in the next 14 days -- there is no action needed on the part of these customers," T-Mobile said. "We however remain hopeful that for the majority of our customers, personal content can be recovered."

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