Some Sidekick users report data has been restored

A server failure had lost the user data, which was feared to be unrecoverable

Nearly a week after what started out as a service disruption, a few users of T-Mobile’s Sidekick device are reporting that personal data feared lost forever in a back-end server failure appears to be restored.

That’s encouraging news for many others who are still waiting for today’s promised update from T-Mobile about the status of their data, stored on servers run by Microsoft’s Danger subsidiary, the original creator of the device. Those who have discovered restored data are busy saving it to what they have available: their onboard SIM card.

[ The Sidekick fiasco has highlighted the need for mobile backups. ]

"I was just on my phone and when I got off my phone all my contacts returned," wrote tommyd2107 this morning. "I do not know if this will last for long but the [sight] of my contacts returning is encouraging." He had begun last night manually importing his contact data into his Sidekick. "[T]hen today when I went out on my phone and after I hung up the rest of my contacts came back."

In one response, Dariahna wrote, "The same thing happened to me...I shut my phone off several times without removing the battery...voila! My contacts returned!" Another frustrated but relieved user, Generalblue, reported his phone had frozen completely. He took out the Sidekick’s battery and replaced it (a common step for users in restarting their phone). "Once my phone was on about 5 minutes later I checked my address book for some reason and they were all there. I saved all my contacts to my simcard."

Also from Network World: A short history of cloud computing outages from Sidekick to Gmail

How widespread these experiences are is impossible to determine yet. Some seem to be users who did not disable their phone by removing and then reinstalling the battery, so keeping local data intact. But others, as the above examples show, did exactly that.

And there remain plenty of complaints and frustrations and sheer rage boiled down into terse posts. "This outage I was all fine about at first but now it is just to[o] much," posted Siber54. "I mean the sidekick does not even have a mass contact save Option. The user has to save them one by one. If I do stay with the sidekick I would like to see options to save all on SD [cards] because a SIM can only hold around 250..I have lost business and meetings from this outage and I am not happy."

T-Mobile offers two Sidekick models, both of which are now labeled "temporarily out of stock." That label was already sparked speculation that the carrier is killing the product line.

T-Mobile is offering all affected users one month of free data service. But for some users at least, that offer doesn't address the larger accountability issues that carrier should acknowledge. "I'm thinking about the BUSINESS I RUN on my phone that I pay THEM to stabilize and secure...which they've failed to do," writes ArcadianSky in a T-Mobile forum post earlier today. "I have to pay salaries, I have to pay bills and I have expenses... I've done my part in paying them to secure my business and business contacts for me. They've failed. They should pay for that in more ways than one."

Users were bracing for the worst after a statement from the carrier and Danger, posted on the T-Mobile user forum at 3:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, informed many for the first time that "personal information stored on your devices -- such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos -- that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly been has lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger." Nonetheless, "our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information."

Although nothing has been announced publicly yet about the causes for the server breakdown, and the threatened data wipeout, that hasn’t stopped an Internet geek chorus from citing the breakdown as evidence of the failure of so-called cloud computing and as a black eye for Microsoft.

According to, the "rumor with the most weight" though with nothing more than "several sources" to give it ballast, is that Microsoft didn’t have a working backup strategy during an update of the Danger storage-area network, for which Hitachi has been hired. "So Hitachi worked on upgrading the SAN and something went wrong, resulting in it’s destruction," the Web post concluded.

Danger launched Sidekick (originally called Hiptop) as a mobile Internet device, combining a phone with a proprietary OS and sliding keyboard, and a set of applications designed for mobile navigation and display. The Danger architecture is an early cloud service: a client-server design synchronized the phone’s data with a cloud-based service run by Danger, providing authentication and backup/restore capabilities if the phone was lost or damaged.

Some, like PC World blogger Tony Bradley, argue that it's important to focus the blame and accountability, rather than resorting to generalities. "The loss of Sidekick data is a failure by Danger to execute common sense server maintenance practices," he writes. "By extension, the failure is also a failure of Microsoft to enforce sound network management policies were being followed, and of T-Mobile to ensure the vendors it partners with are capable of providing reliable service. It is not, however, a failure of the cloud."

There are no simple answers for mobile data backup, either for individual users or for the enterprise, especially given the flood of new devices that are infiltrating the enterprise but lack the infrastructure support from platform vendors such as a Microsoft and RIM. Often, users are left to fend for themselves as their own systems administrator, or rely blindly on an online service that may or may not be resistant if not immune to IT failures.

This story, "Some Sidekick users report data has been restored" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.