A potential snag for cloud computing

Technology officials in the White House have made a big push for cloud computing, which means they want government agencies to store their data in remote servers maintained by third-party companies, rather than on servers in the agency's basement or a nearby data center. Last month, Apps.gov was launched to give agencies more access to cloud computing tools.

One of the biggest potential risks with going this route, some security experts have said, is the questionable reliability of those distant servers. Over the weekend, cloud computing nay-sayers got some ammunition to support that theory.

T-Mobile informed its customers using Sidekick phones that the servers storing all the data for those customers--e-mails, address books, calendars, photos--had crashed. All the personal data people had been storing on those servers through their Sidekick phones appears to be...gone.

Danger, a subsidiary of Microsoft, had been maintaining the data servers. InformationWeek got its hands on the notice T-Mobile sent to consumers about the server crash.

"Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device -- such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos -- that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger," said the notice. "That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low."

It seems the data was not backed up on other servers--a safeguard competing cloud computing providers such as Amazon, Google and Salesforce will likely put in place to avoid this kind of data loss.

But this incident could raise more doubts about whether cloud computing is an appropriate way to store sensitive and crucial government information and citizen data.

Stay tuned for more cloud computing coverage this week.