What the T-Mobile outage means for consumers

Keeping track of where their data is stored, and whether it is truly protected is not a core competency for consumers. The T-Mobile outage proves it should be.

At Storage Networking World in Phoenix this week, there was a buzz in the hallways and over breakfast tables about the T-Mobile Sidekick outage that was due, according to Microsoft , to "a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up." And why not? There are about 800 enterprise-level storage administrators here. The backup process is squarely in their space as is data recovery and data integrity. Some of their colleagues and some vendors represented on the show floor were at Sidekick ground zero pulling data from the wreckage.

SNW attendees knew that there were many fingers pointing in many different directions over this and my finger shan't be one. However I will go out on a limb and say that my understanding of the situation is that it was not a result of sabotage as was once rumored. Rather it was due to failure of two coincidental processes, in this case a data migration failure that was preceded by a backup failure.

Microsoft now says that little if any data was actually lost. T-Mobile Sidekicks are being restored and all or almost all will be made right again. Life will go on normally as if nothing really happened.

Really? Put yourself in the shoes of a Sidekick user for a minute or two. Do you know where your data is and I mean all of it? And, to borrow a line from an old Dustin Hoffman movie: is it safe?

Take an inventory. You have data on your desktop, laptop, Palm device, smartphone, entertainment center, home network...Then ask yourself: how much of this data could you lose without caring whether you ever used it again? Certainly some, perhaps a lot of it, will fall into the data dumpster category. But the T-Mobile scare is yet another reminder that each of us owns data that has become critical to our daily activities. Could you function if someone grabbed your smartphone and ran away? For an increasing number of us, the answer is yes, but with ever greater difficulty. Some other data about us, our medical records for example, are life-critical.

Next, try to figure out how much of that critical data you actually have control over and then back it up. Immediately. Don't trust others to do it for you. Take control and make copies locally and/or using one of the many online backup services.

As one of my Twitter compatriots SEPATONjay observed over breakfast this week, if the service level agreement between T-Mobile and Microsoft couldn't prevent this failure, how good are the SLAs between any of the rest of us consumers and our services providers. Take an inventory of the services providers that hold your data, then read their contracts, (assuming you can find them). I'll bet all of them indemnify the vendor against the loss of your data. If you can't protect that data, don't assume they will. Use a service that offers you a way to protect the data you deem critical.

Think your patient record is beyond your control? News item: you own your patient record no matter what your health care provider might say to the contrary. Get a copy and keep that copy up to date. I'm even going to go so far as to suggest that sometime in the next five years you have your genome sequenced. Store a copy of that in a safe place as well.

We are the mistresses and masters of our data domains. We can cry foul when someone else loses our data. We can even sue. But when data is destroyed--as in gone forever--no outcry no matter how loud will get it back. Protect it and win applause from the storage administrators who assembled here in Phoenix this week.

 

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