Microsoft screwup puts T-Mobile users in Danger

A Microsoft subsidiary just lost the data for thousands of mobile users, which may end up killing the T-Mobile Sidekick -- not a smooth move by a company trying to win back our trust

Leave it to Microsoft to kick itself in the gonads just days before a huge product launch. This particular incident doesn't even involve Windows or any Microsoft product, but a subsidiary that probably few people associate with Redmond.

Some background: As any T-Mobile Sidekick user will tell you, for the past week they've been unable to get their e-mail or other data because of an outage at Danger, the company that (allegedly) manages the Sidekick database. On Saturday T-Mobile admitted what no Sidekick user wanted to hear: Danger had lost the data.

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No real-time disaster recovery, no backups, no nuthin'. All of its users' e-mails, contacts, photos, videos, and so on had shuffled off their mortal coil and were now residing in Data Valhalla, never to return.

T-Mobile delivered the bad news in a letter to Sidekick users on its support forum:

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. 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.

What does this have to do with Microsoft? In April 2008, Danger was acquired by the Redmond giant, presumably to help them develop smartphone software that was less lame than Windows Mobile. (Because it's not possible to make something that's more lame, IMHO.)

The obvious question: What were they thinking? Letting Microsoft acquire a company called Danger is like buying a pit bull named "Killer" and letting him sleep in the henhouse. It's only a matter of time before you've got blood and feathers everywhere.

(Ironically, if you've been syncing your Sidekick with a third-party program like Outlook, your contacts at least are backed up, or so I am told by one Sidekick user. Your photos and so on, not so much.)

T-Mobile added the following advice to the afflicted:

We continue to advise customers to NOT reset their device by removing the battery or letting their battery drain completely, as any personal content that currently resides on your device will be lost.

So you're supposed to do what, exactly? Turn off your Sidekick and stick it under your pillow until -- well, forever?

How in Gates' name did this happen? So far, neither Microsoft nor T-Mobile has offered much in the way of detail. But Hiptop3 blogger Ed Hunsinger has what sounds like a good guess:

Microsoft was upgrading their SAN ...and had hired Hitachi to come in and do it for them. Typically in an upgrade like this, you are expected to make backups of your SAN before the upgrade happens. Microsoft failed to make these backups for some reason. We’re not sure if it was because of the amount of data that would be required, if they didn’t have time to do it, or if they simply forgot. Regardless of why, Microsoft should know better. So Hitachi worked on upgrading the SAN and something went wrong, resulting in its destruction. Currently the plan is to try to get the devices that still have personal data on them to sync back to the servers and at least keep the data that users have on their device saved.

We’ve heard this from what appears to be several sources and it seems to hold weight. Needless to say it all boils down to one thing: Microsoft did not have a working backup.

Sure, all of us have screwed the pooch at some point and failed to properly back up our personal data. But you'd think a multi-billion-dollar corporation -- or even the apparently neglected stepsister of one -- would be just a little more careful about this.

Now Danger, T-Mobile, and Microsoft are all taking a well-deserved beating. And because Hollywood types were among the first to adopt the Sidekick -- the original hip smartphone -- they've just ticked off some very high-profile users. Even Perez Hilton took a break from dishing Mischa Barton to take a few swipes at T-Mobile in front of his 6 million readers.

The companies said it'd offer more details today, so there's a slight chance a miracle might happen and people can get their data back, or at least not lose what they've still got. (Also, one day the Cubs will win the World Series. But not this year.)

Bottom line: 10 days before the Windows 7 launch, and just a week after the Windows Mobile 6.5 debacle, Microsoft has just turned into The Last Guy You'd Trust to Handle Your Data. Nicely done, boys and girls.

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of a comparable screwup by a major company. I'm coming up empty. How about you? Post your candidates below or e-mail me:

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