T-Mobile: Microsoft Lost All the Sidekick Backups

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Here’s an almost incomprehensible data disaster: T-Mobile is telling all users of its popular Sidekick mobile that all of their data has been lost, and is blaming a server failure at Microsoft’s Danger subsidiary. T-Mobile is advising Sidekick users not to reset their device or let the battery drain completely, which would result in a loss of the data on their device.

“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,” T-Mobile said in a forum message. “That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.”


T-Mobile is directing Sidekick users to an FAQ with tips on recovering contacts and protecting data.

The problems for Sidekick users began early this month, when users began experiencing trouble connecting to the servers that store their contacts.  T-Mobile and Microsoft initially expressed optimism that they would be able to restore service as soon as Oct. 4. That didn’t happen, and by Friday some high-profile Sidekick users (like blogger Perez Hilton) were hopping mad about their continuing inability to access email addresses and phone numbers.

How could this have happened? The total data loss at Ma.gnolia earlier this year, which had been the existing benchmark for user data evaportation, occurred at a site run by a single developer. The Sidekick mess involves two of the world’s largest corporations.

Another interesting question is whether Microsoft ever moved the Sidekick data onto its own enormous data center infrastructure, or it continued to reside at a facility operated by Danger, which Microsoft acquired in Feb. 2008. Microsoft has been building enormous data centers (it recently opened facilities in Dublin and Chicago), but continues to house some operations in third-party facilities. 

The incident is already being cited by some news outlets as a confidence-buster for cloud computing. This comes up with every major service outage – especially one involving Microsoft or Google or Amazon. The design of the Sidekick service and backup practices of Danger/T-Mobile will be closely scrutinized - assuming a detailed “how this happened” explanation is issued. As it certainly should.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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12 Comments

  1. Wow- Is the only word I can think of right now. No backup/ How can this be?

  2. Jason T

    This is one of the main reasons I fought very hard to retain our existing LTO3 backup library and not migrate our daily/weekly/monthly backups to SAN snapshots only. No matter how many failsafes you have - if it's on a tape in a vault in the next county - you can't lose it.

  3. I'm very concerned about the hit to confidence in cloud applications - which has an impact on web applications as a whole. I do think solutions can be found, though, which will mitigate risks in cloud applications, lower costs for developers and provide a solid business model for everyone in the chain. Here's mine; there will be others. The current situation is really just a stepping stone.