Microsoft Claims Sidekick Data Will Be Restored This Week

Microsoft suggested in an Oct. 18 statement that T-Mobile Sidekick users' personal data, lost in a catastrophic server failure earlier this month, could be largely restored as soon as this week. T-Mobile has continued to suspend sales of the Sidekick smartphone while the data loss, attributed to Microsoft's subsidiary Danger Inc., is resolved. The incident could potentially cast a shadow over Microsoft's much-rumored branded smartphone development, Project Pink.

Microsoft suggested in an Oct. 18 statement that it will restore lost personal data for T-Mobile Sidekick users starting this week. A server malfunction at Microsoft subsidiary Danger Inc. earlier this month had deleted information stored on the devices of some 800,000 Sidekick owners.

"We continue to make steady progress, and we hope to be able to begin restoring personal contacts for affected users this week," reads the Microsoft statement, which was posted on the T-Mobile Forums, "with the remainder of the content (photographs, notes, to-do-lists, marketplace data, and high scores) shortly thereafter."

The statement finishes with the inevitable: "We appreciate your ongoing patience."

The T-Mobile Website continues to list Sidekick smartphones as "Temporarily Out of Stock," with sales likely suspended until the data service is fully restored. T-Mobile is keeping tight-lipped on a road map for reintroducing the devices to market.

"We're pleased that Microsoft/Danger is continuing to make progress," David Beigie, vice president of corporate communications for T-Mobile, wrote in response to eWEEK's question about Sidekick sales resuming. "T-Mobile's sole focus remains on helping Sidekick customers recover from this disruption."

Microsoft's current claims about a full data restore paint a somewhat rosier picture for Sidekick users previously told, in a statement issued by T-Mobile on Oct. 10, that their personal data had been permanently lost.

"Based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device ... almost certainly has been lost as a result of server failure at Microsoft/Danger," read that missive.

Microsoft engineers were already scrambling to locate the cause of the problem, isolating it as a hardware issue. In response to that discovery, an Oct. 12 posting on the T-Mobile Website told users to not turn off their Sidekick or remove the battery, which would force the device to attempt to sync with servers no longer holding their data.

By Oct. 15, the situation seemed somewhat more under control.

"We are pleased to report that we have recovered most, if not all, customer data for those Sidekick customers whose data was affected by the recent outage," Roz Ho, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Premium Mobile Experiences, wrote in an Oct. 15 statement on the T-Mobile Forum. "We plan to begin restoring users' personal data as soon as possible, starting with personal contacts, after we have validated the data and our restoration plan."

Ho also indicated that the server failure had been catastrophic, with data loss not only in the servers' core database, but also the back-up. The system is currently being rebuilt component by component in order to recover the user data; however, Ho's statement declined to elaborate on whether Hitachi Data Systems, which had reportedly been involved in upgrading the Sidekick SAN at around the time of the server failure, had a role in the incident.

The loss of personal data quickly led to questions about Microsoft's protocols for redundancy and server failure issues, and whether the involvement of any third parties may have escalated the risks of system crash.

A report previously published by Reuters indicated that the servers holding the Sidekick data were a proprietary system belonging to Danger Inc., a Microsoft subsidiary acquired by Redmond in 2008. Danger Inc. originally made its name by providing software and services for mobile handsets, although many of its original employees reportedly left the company or were absorbed into other Microsoft business units following the deal.

If so, a loss of Danger Inc. employees could have potentially affected the handling of the proprietary system.

"There are reports that Microsoft perhaps removed certain individuals or technologists from the Danger staff in order to support other mobile computing initiatives, and that left them short-handed," Erik Laykin, an analyst with the Global Electronic Discovery and Investigations group at Duff & Phelps, an independent financial advisory and investment bank, said in an interview with eWEEK. "If that happened, it's certainly possible that it could have left them vulnerable. I've seen a similar thing with organizations that try to support systems on shortened staff."

Over the long term, the Sidekick incident could potentially affect Project Pink, Microsoft's much-rumored branded smartphone. Although Microsoft itself has repeatedly refused to comment on the rumors, sites such as 9to5Mac have alleged that Microsoft and its Danger Inc. team have been developing two smartphones that could roll out in early 2010.

The CES trade show, slated for early January 2010 in Las Vegas, could very well be where Microsoft decides to debut such a device, which would compete against well-established offerings from Apple, Palm and Research In Motion's BlackBerry line. In what could perhaps be regarded as a bit of irony, reports have suggested that both devices could have a sliding form-factor reminiscent of the Sidekick.