Living in the cloud is dangerous, just ask a Sidekick owner
So while it is rather cool and all that all of the data on your webOS phone is also stored on some remote server somewhere that’ll keep it safe in the event of your phone’s untimely demise, it turns out there’s a dark side to that coolness. Recently owners of T-Mobile Sidekicks have experienced that dark side first hand, and quite brutally. Starting late last week Sidekick owners were faced with a server breakdown that greatly inhibited their ability to do just about anything with their phones. The Sidekick line is surprisingly cloud-centric, with your contacts, tasks, web browsing and just about everything else handled through Danger’s (the OS builder, now owned by Microsoft) servers. The server broke, and took down Sidekicks nationwide with it.
As if not being able to manage basic tasks like looking up contacts was injury enough, today T-Mobile added the insult on top of it: the server meltdown was enough that it seems that all server-side data has been irretrievably lost:
“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.”
Ouch. And the servers are still down, more than a week after the initial failure. T-Mobile is advising all Sidekick owners to avoid resetting their phones at all costs, including removing the battery or letting it drain completely. It turns out that personal data like your contacts is never actually saved on the phone, and if is reset the phone has to download it again when back online. Except with no server to download the lost data from, you can’t get it back. It’s a dark day for the cloud.
Sidekick owners aren’t alone in their cloud woes, as some Palm Pre owners can attest. During the webOS 1.2 update, Palm’s servers were slammed something fierce and went down hard, taking Updates, the App Catalog, and Backup offline. While all the data on your phone stays on your phone, strangely when Backup phoned home to perform its nightly backup and found that the server was down, it for some reason assumed that the Palm Profile it was running (i.e. your data) was invalid and performed a factory reset on itself. What fun it is to awaken to a wiped clean Pre. Thankfully for most, their data was recovered and restored once the servers came back online, but it’s a frightening thought to realize just how dependent our phones can be on a computer that is wholly out of our control.
The situation that Sidekick owners are facing, however, is highly unlikely for webOS users. Assuming that Palm manages to fix the backup disconnect failure, an activated Pre should work just fine without a Palm server to contact - items are downloaded on Synergy conduit creation and then synced, but always saved on the device. With the exception of services backed up to Palm, such as Memos, and Palm Profile-categorized task entries, contacts, and calendar events, everything else is saved and synced with the servers owner by different companies - for most of us that’s the generally reliable Google, whose data centers are fairly decentralized to avoid a Sidekick-sized failure.
Additionally, even if the entire internet system were to go down, your contacts and calendars and everything else (with the exception of Google Maps) is all saved on the Pre. Unlike a Sidekick, webOS does not have to phone home to do some more basic things, even still we’re faced with a disheartening reliance on the cloud. While we don’t have to like it, right now there are few options outside of simply dealing with it. So long as Palm and Google and everybody else we rely on to store our data remains diligent about server stability and backups, we should be alright. It can be scary living in the cloud, but that silver lining of data mobility and access is just so darned shiny.