The past week hasn’t been good for T-Mobile and Microsoft subsidiary, Danger. An apparent hardware failure has left hundreds of thousands of T-Mobile’s customers using Sidekick phones without access to the data services that are relied upon to deliver almost all of their mobile services, including address books and calendars.

The news doesn’t get any better for those customers who don’t have the data stored on their devices: it may all be gone. While reports are coming in indicating that data has been restored for some users, rumors have also circulated which claim no working backups are available.

Needless to say, this is a real blow to T-Mobile. It is having to deal with hundreds of thousands of angry customers and has temporarily stopped selling Sidekicks. It’s offering one month of free data service to affected customers but it looks like many customers will opt for T-Mobile’s other offer: the ability to kill their contracts without penalty.

The situation is also a blow to Microsoft, whose Danger subsidiary powers the data services that the Sidekick relies upon. Its servers housed Sidekick user data and again, according to some of the rumors circulating, the company may have failed to make backups before moving forward with an upgrade that didn’t go so smoothly. If that’s the case, the word ‘incompetence‘ will have a new entry in its portfolio. And to think that Microsoft paid half a billion dollars for Danger.

But T-Mobile and Microsoft aren’t the biggest loser in all of this. Nope. That distinction goes to the cloud itself. You see, the Sidekick is essentially a cloud mobile phone. Just about everything Sidekick users put on their phones — from contacts to calendars — was really stored ‘in the cloud‘. Brilliant idea, huh? Apparently nobody at T-Mobile considered the danger this posed to customers (no pun intended).

Of course, this fiasco creates the perfect straw man argument against the cloud. So cloud proponents will dismiss the questions that are being raised in light of this mess, as they do every time a cloud service fails. “This was the result of incompetence…There’s no such thing as 100% data security anywhere anyway“. You know the usual excuses. Some of them aren’t entirely invalid, but that still doesn’t mean that overall criticisms of the cloud can’t be valid at the same time too.

The real problem with the cloud is the growing apathy that seems to follow it. This manifests itself in the notion that you can just throw data into the cloud and trust that it will be kept safe. Whether it’s Google or Microsoft, it boggles the mind that so many seem to believe that third parties can handle their applications and data better than they can.

And when things go wrong? Don’t worry about that. Even Rackspace, which built a name for itself with “fanatical support” and a 100% network uptime guarantee, is behind a microsite promoting cloud hosting which statesoutages happen“. But don’t worry: someone is around 24/7 to tell you that your mission-critical application is inaccessible and that all your data has been lost. Thank goodness for that!

Of course, I’m being a little facetious here but the point needs to be made: even if 100% uptime and data security is infeasible for most because the costs of building a fully-redundant infrastructure are prohibitive, taking an “outages happen” approach is the best way to guarantee that they happen! After all, if you lower your expectations and make it clear that you’re willing to accept less than the best, you’ll probably end up with an outcome that reflects that.

Getting back to T-Mobile and Danger, it’s unfortunate that a significant number of consumers who probably don’t even know what the ‘cloud‘ is got caught in the middle of a perfect storm — a fatally-flawed service architecture combined with apparent incompetence. But so long as major companies keep buying into the cloud, expect more consumers and businesses to go without access to their email, address books, documents and other invaluable data.

Photo credit: terren in Virginia via Flickr.