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Sidekick's lesson: Back up your data

But cloud services will continue to grow, even as they pose risks, analysts agree

October 15, 2009 04:32 PM ET

Computerworld - After the Sidekick near-disaster, mobile phone users might be wondering if they should ever trust any cloud services to protect their vital data.

On the face of it, there are some obvious lessons to be learned from the Sidekick snafu, even as Microsoft Corp. reported today that most of the data that was missing will be recovered from servers at its Danger Inc. subsidiary.

The obvious lessons:

  • 1. Back up your mobile phone's critical data independently - on a laptop, a desktop or a thumb drive.
  • 2. Raise questions about cloud computing and related services.
  • 3. Find out how your mobile device stores data, and make sure you understand it.
  • 4. When in doubt, refer to number 1.

Forrester Research analyst James Staten said the Sidekick incident should serve as a reminder to users to back up critical data. "You can't rely on these [cloud] services to be 100% available all the time," he said in an interview. "This is not the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last time."

Not only is a backup of critical data imperative, users need to have a way to retrieve the backed-up data. "You need to think about the value of your data and what happens if the service is not available," he said. There are many Internet-based services that can be a second backup version to the original backup, such as Plaxo, he said. Having the second one drastically reduces the odds of total loss.

At larger companies, data backups are commonplace and often include information contained on wireless phones as well as desktop computers, analysts said. The issue becomes more difficult when IT shops trust users who put critical company data on personally-owned wireless phones that aren't backed up.

Despite urging users to back up critical data, Staten joined three other analysts in remaining faithful to the mobile phone industry's strong push for cloud computing services, noting that the Sidekick case was relatively isolated.

Nearly every major smartphone provider is working on some version of cloud computing to back up data from smartphones and other cell phones. All those services could be vulnerable to data loss, and the Sidekick example is likely to prompt a broad re-examination of internal server backup procedures, Staten said.

"I'd say that any lesson that says not to trust cloud computing is too aggressive," said Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research Inc. Wireless phones generally come with limited internal storage and some have removeable storage cards, but "they do rely more on backend services and servers in the cloud to provide information."



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