T-Mobile Learns Its Mobile Data Storage Lesson

Written by Evan Schuman
October 21st, 2009

Data management is all about making choices and T-Mobile—at the hands of no less a notorious data fiend than Microsoft—has learned a difficult lesson. Should customer data be stored at one professionally managed location, emphasizing customer convenience? As an answer, Redmond reminded T-Mobile this month how very inconvenient a little bit of convenience can be.

The well-publicized incident saw legions of T-Mobile Sidekick customers lose contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists and photos when a Microsoft subsidiary named Danger (nope, won’t go there. Far too easy) suffered a glitch. Or as Roz Ho, the Microsoft corporate VP for premium mobile experiences, said in a statement: “We have determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up.” (You think?)

As a footnote, Microsoft ended up being able to retrieve just about all of the data, Ho said, but it wasn’t easy: “We rebuilt the system component by component, recovering data along the way. This careful process has taken a significant amount of time, but was necessary to preserve the integrity of the data.”

As anyone who has tried such an approach before knows, it’s painstaking and often leaves huge gaps in the data. Microsoft got lucky, apparently. But was the original strategy well-thought-out?

Apple, Palm and others offer centralized backup for their mobile devices, too. But the data also stays on the device and, cleverly, backs up routinely to a customer-controlled device (typically a desktop machine). When thinking about the totality of data such devices collectively house, that very fragmented approach most likely preserves the overwhelming majority of the data. And if a customer’s laptop fries, the mobile phone manufacturer or carrier is unlikely to be blamed.

T-Mobile wanted instead to focus on making the process ultra-convenient and easy for customers. Curious if the customers whose data was lost for a week would agree that the convenience had been worth it? We are, too.


2 Comments | Read T-Mobile Learns Its Mobile Data Storage Lesson

  1. Lead Mobile Says:

    Apple had a similar fate with their ‘mobileme’ service last year when they lauched the iPhone where users lost their emails and other information. This was publicly acknowledged by the company’s CEO as a ‘not ready or prime time’ service and mobileme was revamped.

    Working wth the cloud in a mobile medium takes more than creating a virtual storage capability. One has to take into account the unique demands of a mobile user – how they interact with their device, how a ‘moving’ device behaves within a connecte medium, the power of devices to sustain stable communications that may start/stp several times and above all, how the data is actually transferred. Sometimes these cloud service providers tend to do stray into too much, i.e. increase storage, provid backup services and ceate a zoo of photo, video, audio, calendar apps all within the same service! If something goes wrong, the consumer will be left high and dry! because they don’t have any control. After all, do you really need another calendar, photo, audio app…

    There are a few noteworthy smaller players innovating on the mobile phone storage and keeping their services focussed, without straying into too much. One service creates an increased capacity on your mobile phone while giving users full control over their data.

  2. A reader Says:

    And how many laptop owners show up at the Geek Squad’s door every single day demanding “You get my data back right now!!!” even though they shattered their machine on a concrete floor, destroying the hard drive? How many home computer owners have lost their digital picture collections because they have never backed up a thing? I suspect the numbers of people who have destroyed their own data due to their own ineptitude still far outweigh the number of cloud customers that have lost data at the hands of an incompetent provider.

    End users are far and away the worst at taking care of their own data. A few widely publicized events probably aren’t even statistically significant compared to the damage people do to themselves.

    That reminds me, I better back up my digital picture folder again. It’s probably been a year. ;-)


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