Over the past few days, I have seen a lot of articles, tweets and commentary about how the recent failure within Danger (who was purchased by Microsoft about a year ago) of data for the T-Mobile Sidekick was “the Cloud’s fault,” and this really bothered me. As Microsoft is poised to do something with the Danger brand (“Project Pink“) as well as soon release their Cloud Computing Platform called Azure, this could not have come at a worse time for them. There is obviously a lot of attention being paid to the cell phone market place as the Android platform is trying to make a positioning move to attempt to dethrone Apple’s iPhone. The Danger (now Microsoft) Sidekick was a device that provided great functionality “back in the day” (I actually went through quite a few generations of Sidekicks – from the B&W version up to a few color ones a few years ago). The Sidekick has a tiny market share and the user demographic is really much younger (e.g., teens) than the iPhone/Android/Blackberry crowd.
Last week, the Danger data network started experiencing some degradation of service where users were unable to access their data. A quick side note about the Sidekick, unlike other data-containing cellphones, the Sidekick stores all of the data (contacts, appointments, pictures, etc.) in a network datastore and not within the device itself. Most users rely solely on this service and don’t back up their data to a local computer. Other “smarter” phones like the Blackberry and iPhone rely on data synchronization with a physical computer or an Exchange Server to reliably back up their data. In my opinion, this is where the failure of the Sidekick started – single remote source of data only.
Details on the data issue are still being revealed (recently, there is a discussion about “dogfooding” or even “sabotage” where Microsoft may have wanted to replace the existing technology with their own – I will let the conspiracy theory experts battle that one out) but my understanding is that Microsoft wanted to upgrade the SAN (Storage Area Network) that powered the Sidekick data network and contracted with Hitachi to get the job done. Unfortunately for reasons unknown, no backup of the data was performed prior to this upgrade attempt (Failure #2). The upgrade of the SAN proceeded without a backup in place and the data was “destroyed” resulting in thousands of Sidekick users stuck without their data. As of this writing, some users have actually been able to recover data (e.g., if they didn’t power off their device or if they did a “reverse sync” from their Sidekick back to the Danger servers – I don’t have details on this so please don’t try anything without doing any research first).
This brings me back to the title of this post: this fiasco is NOT a failure of Cloud Computing, it is simply a failure of not following standard IT practices, ones that even an average computer user knows. Back up your data, your servers and your infrastructure regularly and store it securely in different locations.
It is somewhat understandable (and unfortunate) that mainstream media and even the tech community jump so quickly to the conclusion that the Cloud is at fault here. Cloud Computing is relatively new and as with any new technology or service, people are looking for any and all holes therein. The same could be said about the launch of eCommerce back in the mid-1990′s. There were failures, fraud and other issues associated with it and the naysayers were quick to point out only the negatives of the movement. Today, people use eCommerce for everything and could not live without it (there are still issues with fraud and security but the technology has evolved and stabilized). Cloud Computing is now going through a similar hype-cycle and we are in the phase where many are adopting and using it wholeheartedly but others are sitting in wait, hoping for some sort of a failure to point out the disadvantages of it.
With recent Gmail failures, users were quick to blame the Cloud. Gmail is a great example of a SaaS application (which many, including me, call a “Cloud Application”). However, Gmail has been around longer than the term “Cloud Computing” so have we simply compartmentalized it into a Cloud Application category? It is not a huge issue if we have. However, what DOES bother me is when a failure happens therein and people simply say “oh, it’s the Cloud’s fault”. Sorry, but what would we have said if a similar failure happened 4 years ago? “Oh, it’s a failure of SaaS” and “SaaS is evil”?