T-Mobile Learns Its Mobile Data Storage Lesson

Data management is all about making choices and T-Mobile—at the hands of no less a notorious data fiend than Microsoft—has learned a difficult lesson. Should customer data be stored at one professionally managed location, emphasizing customer convenience? As an answer, Redmond reminded T-Mobile this month how very inconvenient a little bit of convenience can be.

The well-publicized incident saw legions of T-Mobile Sidekick customers lose contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists and photos when a Microsoft subsidiary named Danger (nope, won't go there. Far too easy) suffered a glitch. Or as Roz Ho, the Microsoft corporate VP for premium mobile experiences, said in a statement: "We have determined that the outage was caused by a system failure that created data loss in the core database and the back-up." (You think?)

As a footnote, Microsoft ended up being able to retrieve just about all of the data, Ho said, but it wasn't easy: "We rebuilt the system component by component, recovering data along the way. This careful process has taken a significant amount of time, but was necessary to preserve the integrity of the data."

As anyone who has tried such an approach before knows, it's painstaking and often leaves huge gaps in the data. Microsoft got lucky, apparently. But was the original strategy well-thought-out?

Apple, Palm and others offer centralized backup for their mobile devices, too. But the data also stays on the device and, cleverly, backs up routinely to a customer-controlled device (typically a desktop machine). When thinking about the totality of data such devices collectively house, that very fragmented approach most likely preserves the overwhelming majority of the data. And if a customer's laptop fries, the mobile phone manufacturer or carrier is unlikely to be blamed.

T-Mobile wanted instead to focus on making the process ultra-convenient and easy for customers. Curious if the customers whose data was lost for a week would agree that the convenience had been worth it? We are, too.