How many times do you have to be burned by BlackBerry to consider your options?

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What’s the phrase? Oh, yeah: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. BlackBerry went down yesterday across North and South America. Users couldn’t send or receive e-mail, and some complained that they couldn’t connect to the Internet. It’s the second time in a week that BlackBerry has failed. Considering how important the service is to some people—I dare you to go to Wall Street and not see everyone using the device—you really do wonder: how long will people tolerate this shoddy service? It also raises the related question of, How wise is it to rely on “the cloud” to host all of your important data? Surely you wouldn’t leave “mission critical” information in the hands of someone else, someone who’s unsettling opaque when it comes to explaining outages?

Before we get into this, here’s RIM statement about this latest bit of downtime:

A service interruption occurred Tuesday that affected BlackBerry customers in the Americas. Message delivery was delayed or intermittent during the service interruption. Phone service and SMS services on BlackBerry smartphones were unaffected. Root cause is currently under review, but based on preliminary analysis, it currently appears that the issue stemmed from a flaw in two recently released versions of BlackBerry Messenger (versions 5.0.0.55 and 5.0.0.56) that caused an unanticipated database issue within the BlackBerry infrastructure. RIM has taken corrective action to restore service.

RIM has also provided a new version of BlackBerry Messenger (version 5.0.0.57) and is encouraging anyone who downloaded or upgraded BlackBerry Messenger since December 14th to upgrade to this latest version which resolves the issue. RIM continues to monitor its systems to maintain normal service levels and apologizes for any inconvenience to customers.

I’ve never had an important thing to do in my life (clearly), so I’ve never really needed the BlackBerry’s always-on e-mail capability. I’ve never had a job on the line, or a fancy business account at stake, at that beck and call of RIM’s servers. So I read these “BlackBerry down~!” stories like you read international news: interesting to a degree, but nothing that’s going to upset the carefully choreographed rhythm of my day.

That’s not to say I don’t rely on services that I have zero control over. I use Gmail for both personal and professional (if that’s the word to use!) e-mail. If a tornado rips through Google’s servers I’m pretty much doomed. I play World of Warcraft for many, many hours per week. If Blizzard’s servers mysteriously vanished my playtime would have all been in vain. I listen to music now on Spotify (in fact, I haven’t downloaded an album in several months because of Spotify). What happens if aliens invade, shooting a death ray at the Spotify servers? There’s goes my music “collection”!

The point is, it’s hard not to run into, and use on a daily basis, services that you have very little control over. How many people do you know who run their own e-mail server? Who has backups of all the photos they store on Flickr or Facebook?

I know it’s not the same, but this latest BlackBerry outage does highlight my concern with everything moving to “the cloud.” Like I said, I haven’t downloaded an album in months because of Spotify, but what if the record labels suddenly decide to revoke their support? How is that any more wise than buying a cheap hard drive then stuffing it with MP3s and FLACs? Then buy a backup hard drive.

I guess this makes a cloud skeptic. (Incidentally, while my fellow CrunchGear writers will be at CES clutching to their phone to see their Google Calendar schedule, at the mercy of the wireless networks in Las Vegas, I’ll be walking around with a pen and a piece of paper stuffed into my wallet with a list of all of my meetings. A piece of paper won’t crash, and if AT&T dies in Las Vegas that week, and I fully expect that it will given all the iPhones that will be crawling up and down The Strip, I’ll be skipping along with everything I need in my pocket. It’s sorta like Steampunk, just not stupid.)

So as RIM gets BlackBerry up and running (to be fair, everything looks to be running just fine as of this writing), you do wonder how long people will continue to passively allow this to happen to them. What are you going to do the next time an outage happens, tweet your displeasure to the world? Provided Twitter itself isn’t down, of course.

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