Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

It's been the story of the week. T-Mobile Sidekick customers were told that all of their data might be lost and warned not to turn off their devices to prevent losing what's already on them. It's about the worst case nightmare scenario for any vendor and it underscored the weakness and vulnerability of cloud-based computing with no other means of backup and storage.

The Sidekick story is complicated, and there's much rumor and speculation as to what went wrong and how. To be clear, Sidekick is a T-Mobile branded-and-sold device and service, but the Sidekick technology comes from Danger, a former startup now owned by Microsoft, which T-Mobile pays to keep Sidekick going. Trust me, there's going to be lots of finger pointing and perhaps a few class-action lawsuits before this all comes to an end. While finger pointing is fun, it's not the issue. (And, as grandpa used to say, when you point your finger at someone else, three fingers point back at you.) Some argued with me last night that cloud computing is perfectly safe, it's the company deploying that you need to look to. OK. I accept that. Only thing is that Danger's been doing this pretty well since 2002 and at no point did I ever see a single warning from anyone that dealing with T-Mobile, Danger or Microsoft might be a bad idea when it comes to personal data solely living in the cloud.
My real question is how much is your data worth? Not the cost of the data streams you pay each month, but how much value does your data have to you personally? Recently, when I visited a client, I was asked to check my laptop at the door and I was asked how much my computer was worth. The guard was somewhat surprised at my stated value of my system. "Is this computer really worth a two million dollars?" he asked. "No," I replied. However, the information on it is worth that and perhaps more to me. Could you re-create every document or email you've ever written? Re-acquire every song in your collection or re-take every photograph in your catalog. Perhaps you could, but even if so, at what cost and what effort?

The problem is that cloud computing hype and the idea of storing everything in the cloud has gained such buzz that it's reached down to the consumer level. Sure, there are companies who can deliver great cloud services -- and until last week we might have counted Microsoft and T-Mobile among them -- but the real issue is that businesses have professionals to deal with these issues. They're called IT folk and they make a lot of money keeping things running. What's happening now is the

It's a world where the head of house is CIO, the spouse runs the help desk and the kids do tech support.

IT-ization of the consumer. It's a world where the head of house is CIO, the spouse runs the help desk and the kids do tech support. (Johnny, stop practicing piano and please get those Windows 7 security updated installed.) Of course, the consumer does it with no budget, resources, trained professionals or skills. This is a huge problem and the data issues we saw with Sidekick are just the tip of the iceberg.

Consumers need to understand that prevention hurts less than cure. Forget things like anti-virus software as the sole means of preventive measures -- it's time for consumers to learn to focus on data backups, especially for content that doesn't live locally. (I'd actually argue that much anti-virus software is a waste of time and the fact that their vendors depend on new viruses for their livelihood is disturbing -- some vendors even pay "bounties" to the first users who "discover" new viruses or strains.). Instead of hassling users who need to sit through boot and virus scans, vendors should work with them to help implement cohesive data backups, like a master file for PC users or DVDs for laptops. That way, if disaster strikes and the cloud vanishes in a puff of vapor, users can be back up and running quickly. You can't argue with the savings in time and money.

Most readers here know this but it's worth repeating because knowledge doesn't replace action. It's important to know your risks, wherever your data lives. As Joni Mitchell sang. "It's cloud's illusions I recall, I really don't know clouds at all" And perhaps neither do we -- at least not as well as we think.


Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, LLC. His weblog can be found at gartenblog.net, and he can be emailed at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.

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Entelligence: Cloud's illusions I recall