Daniel Eran Dilger
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Palm Pre users suffer cloud computing data loss

Daniel Eran Dilger

Palm is investigating why its Palm Pre users are suffering data loss after resetting or replacing their WebOS phones and attempting to restore their personal data from the company’s online cloud backup service

Palm Pre users suffer cloud computing data loss
Pre contacts, calendar items, memos and tasks are supposed to be backed up by automatic sync to Palm’s cloud servers, enabling users to swap out faulty hardware without any need to back up their data to their own local computer. Palm refers to this online data backup as a Profile, but the system isn’t working for an increasing number of users who report losing all or most of their information, according to a report by PreCentral.

The problem recalls the data catastrophe suffered by Microsoft’s Danger group, which resulted in a widespread loss of personal information for T-Mobile Sidekick users. Microsoft was able to recover some of the data after Sun and Oracle experts stepped in to help recover the information, but the salvaged data took over a month to restore because the company didn’t have adequate backups.

Earlier this year, Nokia also experienced a cloud services failure with Ovi, its mobile online service then operating in a public beta, after a server accident resulted in database problems. Despite having “regular backups,” the company said “we were not able to set it right” and had to revert to an older database performed three weeks earlier at its previous hosting center.

“We’re sorry for the lost contacts in your phonebooks,” Nokia’s Ovi Contacts project manager Kristian Luoma posted to the company’s blog. “We’re sorry that the profile pictures you love, and we love too are gone. Nothing can make this right, we know, but we’re hoping that you can forgive us and give another chance to give you good service.”

Like Microsoft’s Danger/Sidekick platform, Palm’s new WebOS devices are not designed to sync with a desktop PC, so users can’t back up their own phones without buying third party software to do so. Apple has suffered similar data loss issues in its rollout of MobileMe, its own cloud backup and push sync data service, but iPhone and iPod touch users are able to sync their devices to iTunes locally, enabling them to backup and restore their personal data independently of any problems that many occur in the cloud.

The Cloud or Bust

Despite the widespread troubles plaguing devices that are only designed to sync with the cloud (and which make it complicated, difficult or even impossible for users to perform their own backups locally), vendors are still working to push mobile devices tied to cloud-only sync services.

Last year, Android’s Product Marketing Director Marc Vanlerberghe, wrote, “We envisioned a world where your various computers and phones would always be in sync without needing discipline, USB cables, Bluetooth, and synchronization software.” The result was that Google’s Android is designed to sync user data automatically to Google’s cloud service in the background.

If Google were to lose any Android data on its end (Google’s Gmail and other services have gone offline and/or lost users’ messages several times before) Android phones would dutifully sync the loss back to the handset without the user even realizing it happened until the data was gone, with no way for the user to subsequently restore the data.

Microsoft recently released its own My Phone service for Windows Mobile to similarly back up users’ entire phone to the company’s cloud servers rather than to the their own PC. Most Windows Mobile phones are designed to sync with a local Exchange Server, which many of Microsoft’s remaining users might prefer over the company’s own cloud service, given its track record with Danger.

Unlike the iPhone 3GS, the Verizon/Motorola Droid doesn’t support the default minimum security policy required by Exchange Server, resulting in many companies refusing to support Android phone sync with their corporate email systems.

With every major phone vendor having experienced serious and significant cloud service failures, more companies might begin recognizing that support for local data sync and backup through a user application like iTunes is not just a good idea, but an essential feature for consumers increasingly wary of trusting their information to a central server on the cloud, particularly services that offer to maintain users’ data for free, and which subsequently can’t be expected to care that much about restoring lost information once it occurs.

  • Imapolicecar

    Cloud Computing: Definition – Pay someone else to lose your data :(

  • chefmitch

    It’s CRAZY that smartphones are being released that have no mechanism to sync to PCs (I’m looking at you Palm Pre and Android).

    How is this possible? Who thinks this is a good idea?

    And speaking of syncing – until recently there was no way to sync your Blackberry to a Mac without buying 3rd party software (that is horrible). I haven’t tried the native BB software, yet.

    Shouldn’t syncing to your own computer be the bare minimum for a smartphone? Cloud syncing should be the next step. Replacing local sync with cloud sync, NO THANKS.

  • OlivierL

    I really like the fact that context based ads are currently displaying offers for … Cloud based backup solutions :)

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  • http://www.lowededwookie.com lowededwookie

    I told you. I said this very thing in the previous article.

    Cloud computing shouldn’t be in the form of full use but for collaboration and file storage.

    Cloud computing has traditionally failed for this reason and for the reason that you effectively have to keep paying indirectly to use your devices.

  • http://bit.ly/VisitMyBlog portorikan

    I have a palm pre but I’m not too concerned about this, and that’s maybe because I feel like I have a few backups in place to make sure that I don’t lose the information that matters to me, which is mainly contacts (the most annoying part about anything).

    Here’s my set up: I use google apps for my email, calendar and contacts information. It all syncs between the pre and google (obviously) but also between Apple Mail, iCal, and Address Book. So anything I add or changes I make either online, on the pre, or the Mac gets pushed out to the other. Should anything happen to one in terms of information loss, it’s ok because the other will retain it.

    I addition to that, I use Apple’s Backup to back up my iCal and Address book information to my Dropbox folder, which keeps a local copy on the Mac drive. I think it’s an easy set up with checks and balances in place should anything happen.

    I think it’s a great set up. Provides many of the services of MobileMe without the price tag as well.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    With every major phone vendor having experienced serious and significant cloud service failures, more companies might begin recognizing that support for local data sync and backup through a user application like iTunes is not just a good idea, but an essential feature

    Here! Here! This is especially important to business, where a data lose can mean sales lose.

  • JasonBelec

    Funny how many competitors lambaste Apple, then run out and self destruct because of pride.

    Those denouncing cloud computing need to understand a little better. It works very well, as long as you plan ahead and don’t take short cuts.

    Afterall, data is the most valuable commodity of all.

  • Steve White

    portorikan points out the virtue of using both a cloud and a local system for backup. To borrow a quote from long ago, “if you do it that way, it works almost like a Mac.” :-)

    I simply don’t understand why any company would want to take on the expense, let alone the risk, of maintaining a giant cloud for all their users’ data. The whole point of distributed computing is that you distribute the risk: in this case, iPhone users back up to their Mac/PC via iTunes, and they’re the ones who assume the risk of a proper backup. Overlay MobileMe if you want the added security of a cloud backup and background sync but that’s optional.

    Why on earth wouldn’t Google come out with a local backup option that syncs everything to their own apps? That would be a value added service: plug your phone into your PC and your e-mail is sync’d to Google Mail, etc, etc. That would build brand identity for Google independent of what phone is running the Android OS.

    And Palm is the one who had, a decade ago, a Palm desktop. Everyone at PalmCo forgot that?

    Jason hits it: data is the most valuable commodity of all. My contacts, pics and e-mails aren’t valuable to you but they sure as heck are valuable to me. I’m perfectly capable of making it secure: iTunes does it nicely.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter


    It’s the dream of subscription based accounting. If the customer wants to keep their data, they have to keep paying, and the money keeps rolling in. Microsoft was hoping to do this with Windows, so that they could “MONETIZE” those neanderthals who are still running Win95, Win98, WinME, NT4, Win2K, and WinXP. The also wanted to do the same with Office. Luckily, through total incompetence, they failed.

    When I was phone hunting, one of my major issues was that you had to be able to locally back up the phone. If it backed up to the cloud as well, that was fine, assuming the charge was reasonable, but I had to have a local backup. I’ve got both on and off site copies of all my important stuff (offsite backup is a six hour drive, but it’s safe).

    I know of a lot of businesses who could save big money by using a Google Docs/GMail combination, but who are scared by the off-site nature of the beast. What happens if their internet connection goes down?

    This is the one thing that could block adoption of Google Chrome (all else being equal). I’ve heard that it will keep local copies of your docs, but we won’t know for certain until it’s actually on the market, in however many months.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter
  • Joshua L

    If you use Spanning Sync on a Mac, you can sync in a foolproof fashion to Google’s Calendar and contacts to iCal and Address Book. Since Palm Pre, and of course Android, both utilize Google’s cloud – this has the same best of both worlds that iTunes combined with Mobile Me do. The shame is that Palm and Google haven’t made a solution available for free themselves like this.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    The IPhone already syncs contacts with GMail. Wonder when they’ll add calendar syncing?

  • http://bit.ly/VisitMyBlog portorikan

    @Joshua L, like I stated in a previous comment, Address Book and iCal already do this without the need to purchase Spanning Sync on a Mac. This solution is already available for free on a Mac.

  • gslusher

    Steve wrote: “And Palm is the one who had, a decade ago, a Palm desktop. Everyone at PalmCo forgot that?”

    Right–and guess where Palm got Palm Desktop for the Mac? … from Claris! Palm Desktop is a descendant of Claris Organizer, which 3Com bought from Claris in about 1998.

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