Lost Data in the Cloud: How Sad

The headlines are ablaze because somebody over at the company, Danger, upgraded a storage array without making a backup, and voila – bye bye T-Mobile contact data.  (See the article on The Washington Post here)  Nik Cubrilovic’s point in his article is that data has a natural lifecycle, and you should be able to survive without your contacts on your phone.  But he also makes the point that all sysadmins have memories of not being able to recover some data at some point, and sweating out bullets as a result.  His commentary is: this stuff is hardly as reliable as we expect it to be.  “Cloud” computers are no different, except that they are generally managed by professionals that increase the odds of successful recovery as compared to the basement enthusiasts.

Having a backup plan is important.  Testing your backups periodically is important.  But generally, the rule is that the most important data gets the most attention.  If you have to make a choice between backing up your T-Mobile contacts and your patient’s health records, the latter probably will get more attention.  That’s in part because there are laws that require more attention to the latter.  But it is also because you probably won’t die if you can’t call your aunt Susan without first emailing your mom for her number.  You can die if your doctor unknowingly prescribes you a medication that interacts with something not in your chart because of data loss.

But the bottom line with this: data loss is inevitable.  There is a tremendous amount of data being stored today by individuals and businesses.  Even the very largest and most sophisticated technology businesses on Earth have had recent data losses that made the headlines.  But the odds of data loss by doing nothing about backups are still higher than if you at use a cloud service.  Oh, and if you use an iPhone with MobileMe, it synchs your contacts between your iPhone and your computer and Apple’s http://www.me.com, so you actually have three copies of your contacts floating around, not just a copy on the “cloud.”  Maybe you T-Mobile people aren’t better off by “sticking together.”

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Maryland technology attorney and college professor.

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