Microsoft learns the hard way: Back up our data!

There's a lesson in this firsthand account of Microsoft/Danger data outage: Backing up would have been easier

I have had technical difficulties here at the Gripe Line that kept me from posting. Apologies! I'm back now. If you sent an e-mail recently, though, please resend it.

Technical difficulties are frustrating, but my own tribulations pale next to the problems Danger/Microsoft has been experiencing lately. That company, which provides the data service for the T-Mobile Sidekick, has been having a very bad week. And since I own a Sidekick, Danger/Microsoft and T-Mobile's bad week made my bad week even worse. I was right in the heart of this disaster, but couldn't gripe about it! Do you mind if I make up for that now?

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out HP and JetBlue are using Twitter to respond to customers in "Tied to the Twitter listening post" | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

It all started last weekend. I was traveling and unable to use the data portion of my phone. No e-mail while on the road? Very frustrating! I assumed the problem was with my handset, so I did what any respectable geek would do: I popped the battery out and did a hard reset. Still nothing. I repeated that move several times while I was traveling. It did not restore my e-mail. Then I noticed I had no Web access, nor access to Twitter or Facebook through the social apps that this phone is famous for.

When I got back to my office, I hit Twitter to catch up with my peeps and there was the answer: T-Mobile was a trending topic. Clicking on that brought me a steady stream of complaints from what looked like every one of the million or so Sidekick owners who were having the same problem. Some of those tweets were from tech support at T-Mobile. The message from them? "Whatever you do, don't pop the battery out of your phone and do a hard reset!"

Oops.

My first question was, "That's an important message. Why did I have to learn this three days into the outage from Twitter?" I traveled overseas recently. As soon as I turned my phone on in Europe, I got several handy text-messages warning me that my plan didn't include overseas roaming and I should turn that off if I didn't want to incur data charges. Why no text message about this (much bigger) problem?

My second question was, "Does T-Mobile plan to charge me for this data plan I can't use?"

The answer to both came 24 hours later via text message. First came an announcement of the data outage and a warning about not powering down the phone. Then I got a text message announcing that I would be credited for a month of data.

Of course, this data outage is big news now -- though I've been prevented from commenting on it here due to my own unrelated data outage (more of data locked door.) And it all stems back to that hard-reset message.

Here's why that message was so important and the company would have been smart to get it out sooner: Danger/ Microsoft failed to back up the data the company was storing for us Sidekick users on their servers. So if you shut your phone down, there was a strong likelihood that the data on it would never come back when you turned the phone on.

Oh, snap! That is embarrassing. My teenager recently lost a report because he failed to back up, but he is only 13. This is Microsoft. Not only is the company no longer a teenager, it should be able to afford some respectable IT people.

Did the company forget to back up before it did the server upgrade that's being blamed for the outage? Did Microsoft fire all the good IT people in those layoffs last May? Doesn't it have some sort of backup procedure in place?

As someone affected by this outage, I will admit that Twitter has become like TV for me lately. (It does work on my Sidekick again.) It got me the news on this outage a full day before I got it from the official source; if you are still clinging to the idea that social media is just a lot of hooey, maybe you should think again.

When I want to know what is up with this situation, I type in "T-Mobile" in a search at Twitter.com or simply click on the trending topic. You don't even need an account with Twitter to do this. And then I watch the news, anger, and shock from the IT community, advice, alerts, and even sympathy for the company -- especially T-Mobile which is paying for Microsoft's screwup.

I watched as Microsoft/Danger admitted they really don't have a backup anywhere. I was glued to the feed as T-Mobile offered to let customers out of their contracts early without a fee. Then came reports that T-Mobile had stopped selling the Sidekick. (They are listed as "out of stock" at T-Mobile.com.) Then came hope that Microsoft had found a way to restore some data. All of this was happening in real time as people learned of events -- and well before the PR people or media could get the message out. I take everything with a grain of salt, of course, but this feed was very useful and fascinating.

For the official word, though, T-Mobile is keeping customers updated, and this morning's announcement includes a sweeter offer for those who lost data than yesterday's announcement did:

In the event certain customers have experienced a significant and permanent loss of personal content, T-Mobile will be sending these customers a $100 customer appreciation card. This will be in addition to the free month of data service that already went to Sidekick data customers. This card can be used towards T-Mobile products and services, or a customer's T-Mobile bill. 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. We however remain hopeful that for the majority of our customers, personal content can be recovered.

I personally did not lose any data. Why? I back up. (It's really not that hard.) What do you think? Did Microsoft learn to back up its (or our) data this time?

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Microsoft learns the hard way: Back up our data!," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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