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Danger, Inc: living up to its name


The folks at Microsoft's Danger group have brain fart, throw away customers' data


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 10/14/2009


Let's say that you wanted to warn people that there are real risks in cloud computing - what would you do? You could tell them that a feature of the cloud is that you cannot be sure of the reliability of other cloud participants, or maybe even know who they are. But who would pay attention to a Chicken Little crying that there is nothing holding the clouds up in the sky?


Now add that you want to be sure that the message was associated with a big company that seems to see cloud computing as its path to future riches. What could you do to be sure the message got through?


How about this: you create a small company in the cloud computing space. Let's say a company that develops a mobile client/server computing package and licenses it to cell phone companies. Among other things this package enables cell phone users to back up the information on their cell phones to the cloud for safekeeping. You give the company a name that will be very easy to remember and one that will have an entirely different meaning from what you tell people you have in mind when you come up with the name -- "Danger." The next step is to get a big company that is starting to make noise about the importance of cloud computing to buy your little company - maybe a company like Microsoft.


Once you have done all that you are set to create a memorable object lesson.


Well not quite. You need to do one more thing: set your systems up without any backups. Now you are ready. All you have to do now is to zap one of your servers. Now you can tell the world that the Microsoft subsidiary Danger has managed to lose all the supposedly securely backed up information for thousands of users. People should be able to remember this and maybe think twice before moving their critical applications to the hard-to-define and harder-to-understand cloud. Yup, that would work.


Now I have no reason to believe that the founders of Danger, Inc., created the company with the above scenario in mind. But the effect is the same, even if the decision to not back up the users' data came from a misplaced belief in hardware reliability and the steps that led to the data loss came from a brain fart.


I looked at the Danger Web site to see what they had to say about what happened, but could not find anything. The latest press release was from April 2008. T-Mobile, the cell phone company whose customers' data got zapped did tell its users to not turn off their phones to maybe preserve some data but I could not find any messages directly from Danger, Inc. (An aside, I found the Danger Web site quite new age. I could not find anything that actually said what they did in any level of detail. Just fuzzy words.)


Although I do not actually think this is a plot, or the actions of a mole, I do hope that people who are thinking about trusting the reliability, security and accountability of cloud computing remember that the namesake is an insubstantial and amorphous collection of water vapor - hardly something to stand on.


Disclaimer: Harvard itself has been described as a substantial but amorphous collection of schools and departments but not, as far as I know, as cloud education. Nor do I know of any university opinion on naming your company "Danger" or on the dangers of cloud computing.


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