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Betting the Server Farm

Less than a week after a new generation of Windows Phones reached retailers' shelves, Microsoft is making the nightly news as the company whose servers crashed and irretrievably lost all of T-Mobile Sidekick customers' address and calendar data. The popular Sidekick cell phones were wiped out if customers turned them off or tried to reboot during a week or longer service outage that started on Oct. 2nd.

The timing couldn't have been worse. The Windows Phone launch on Oct. 6th marked the debut of Windows Mobile 6.5, which includes Windows Marketplace for Mobile, home to about 250 applications. Ironically, Windows Mobile 6.5 users have the option of using the free My Phone service for backing up contacts, messages, videos and other data on a pass protected Web site "in the event of a lost phone."

Microsoft agreed to acquire Danger Inc., the software-as-a-service company that developed the Sidekick apps in February 2008. Unlike Apple's iPhone which frequently syncs with the user's local desktop through iTunes, giving the user the opportunity to store information locally, the SideKick services and My Phone are hosted on remote data servers.

Yesterday, T-Mobile posted an update to its customers on its Web site. It appears that some data may be salvageable:

"We are thankful for your continued patience as Microsoft/Danger continues to work on preserving platform stability and restoring all services for our Sidekick customers. We have made significant progress this past weekend, restoring services to virtually every customer. Microsoft/Danger has teams of experts in place who are working around-the-clock to ensure this stability is maintained.

Regarding those of you who have lost personal content, T-Mobile and Microsoft/Danger continue to do all we can to recover and return any lost information. Recent efforts indicate the prospects of recovering some lost content may now be possible."

Microsoft can only hope that this pr disaster is somehow remedied and fast. Next month, the company is commercializing its cloud computing Windows Azure Platform, a platform as a service, which only runs in the company's own data centers. Despite 99.95 percent service level agreements, outages happen, services go down, but a remote threat of losing corporate data is a bet most companies won't make, even with local backups.

Does Microsoft have a mobile black hole, an image problem or did it cut costs on Sidekick's back-end services and "bet the server farm" on a small staff of junior developers as many bloggers have reported? Express your thoughts below or drop me a line at [email protected]

Posted by Kathleen Richards on 10/13/2009

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