Microsoft, T-Mobile Look to Recover Most Sidekick User Data

Microsoft suggests that the data outage on its Danger subsidiary's servers, which deleted personal information from Sidekick smartphones across the country, may not be permanent. In a statement posted on the T-Mobile Website, a Microsoft executive suggested that engineers had found a way to recover most, if not all, of the lost user data. The widespread outage led some to question the ultimate viability of cloud computing and storing personal data on the Web.

Microsoft is suggesting that it could restore most, if not all, information lost after a server outage at its Danger subsidiary wiped out personal data for users of T-Mobile's Sidekick smartphone.

Initial prospects of data recovery seemed grim. In an Oct. 10 statement, soon after Sidekick users began noticing that everything from personal contacts to calendar entries had disappeared from their devices, T-Mobile wrote: "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."

Microsoft engineers scrambled to locate the problem, eventually isolating it as a hardware issue on Danger's servers. An Oct. 12 posting on the T-Mobile Website told users not to turn off their Sidekick or remove the battery, which would force the device to attempt to sync with servers that no longer held their data.

While the whole incident threatened to dampen public enthusiasm for smartphones and place into question Microsoft's large strategic bets on cloud infrastructure, Redmond now reports that the situation may not, in fact, be quite so dire.

"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." Microsoft will then focus on restoring user data including calendar, notes, tasks, photographs and high scores.

Ho also provided some details about the cause of the server failure, which until this point had been the subject of a good deal of online conjecture.

"We have determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up," Ho wrote. "We rebuilt the system component by component, recovering data along the way."

Ho uses the word "apologize" twice in the six-paragraph statement.

Immediately following the incident, T-Mobile suspended Sidekick sales. As of Oct. 15, the devices continued to be listed as "Temporarily Out of Stock" on the T-Mobile Website. A T-Mobile spokesperson previously told The Wall Street Journal that the devices would not be remarketed until online service had been fully restored.

In the interim, T-Mobile has attempted to prevent customer attrition by offering a free month of data service and a $100 "customer appreciation card" that can be used toward either a T-Mobile bill or other T-Mobile products and services.

Based on some customer comments on the T-Mobile Forum, however, that gesture may not be enough.

"Can the $100 be used toward paying the early termination fee?" one asked.