Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nirvanix comment

Received today 29 July 2008 in response to my email regarding the posting on the Nirvanix blog. Details on yesterday's blog at:

---Email from Nirvanix to Luzo Orbit
Mr. Orbit,

Nirvanix just posted the full accounting of our story on our blog today. The claim made by "Charlie Jackson" on the TechCrunch article comments section is both suspect and untrue. I tried to follow the blog but there appear to be no authentication process for message posters so anybody can take any persona it seems. What is most disturbing, however, is that no one from TechCrunch ever called Nirvanix for an interview. The entire "final story" on TechCrunch was predicated and syndicated based on that single post. This is the same thread that brought us to some "Charlie the Unicorn" video on YouTube which is the point where it became farcical and we just stopped reading. Your blog "Nirvanix Users Blog" uses this very TechCrunch article for its foundation and therefore is both inaccurate and libelous.

As for TechCrunch article quoting the "Charlie Jackson" post, Nirvanix was not even incorporated in June of 2007. As our blog points out, the Storage Delivery Network(TM) did not go into general availability until October of 2007.

Please see our post for any additional information: http://developer.nirvanix.com/blogs/nirvanix/default.aspx

Best Regards,
---end of email

The following is a response also received today to a second email I sent appealing to Nirvanix to help resolve the problem of access to the files it holds.

---Email from Nirvanix to Luzo Orbit
Mr. Orbit,

and to The Linkup's own website where it The Linkup counters the former customer rep
claim where it states:

"Additional information (Updated: July 11, 2008 @ 5:45pm):
An update to answer several questions that we have received:
1. The only files that are available for download are the files that are currently in your The Linkup account.
2. Nirvanix cannot provide access to any additional data or assist with accessing your files. Please do not contact them.

Lastly, Nirvanix is painfully aware of the hurt that people are feeling from MediaMax's closure and it is made worst by the powerlessness to do anything about it beyond what we have stated on the blog today.

Best Regards,


I have replied to these emails as follows:

---Luzo Orbit to Nirvanix
Dear Jonathan,

Regarding your two emails, let me first point out that Charlie Jackson made a similar post to The Linkup blog to that on the Techcrunch site, though comments have since been deleted from there. While Techcrunch may not have contacted Nirvanix, I did twice explicitly asking for a response and received none. Now that you have replied I will add this to the blog.

If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting the deletion of files took place before Streamload (renamed as Mediamax) span off the customer front end (with the Mediamax name) and rebranded as Nirvanix. Is that correct? If so, it seems to me that in taking over the servers and the storage responsibility for data belonging to customers of Streamload/Mediamax, Nirvanix also has responsibility for this troublesome legacy which, at the very least, gives you a moral responsibility to help recover the data that was not deleted and, ideally, completing the failed recovery programme initiated by Streamload/Mediamax.

I am pleased that you are not denying the claim by John Hood, Communications Director of Mediamax, that it is up to Nirvanix whether it provides access to the Mediamax system. You instead say the company 'counters' his claim, which I hope you can see is a very curious state of affairs. As it is no doubt easier for you to contact Mr. Hood about this than it is for me, can you please ask him to retract this comment if it is not true with an explanation as to why he was mistaken. May I suggest that you ask him to send this message as a reply to a past email he has received from me so I will know it is authentic.

Regarding comments on The Linkup website to which you refer, the company has not responded to any of my past emails. As their office is across the road from yours, perhaps you can prompt them to do so with an explanation as to why their Communications Director misled users, if that is indeed what has happened, and an explanation as to why Mediamax/The Linkup is apparently refusing to provide Nirvanix with access to the Mediamax database. It is difficult to see any practical or legal reason why they should not assist Nirvanix in reuniting people with their data, to which Nirvanix was entrusted.

Can you indicate whether Nirvanix will allow people to access the data held on your servers if the legal issues can be resolved?

Can you indicate whether Nirvanix has made any effort to resolve this alleged legal obstacle or will do so by, for example, visiting the Mediamax/The Linkup office in the way I suggest above?

---Email ends

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nirvanix breaks its silence - but not to this blog

There is some good news. Nirvanix has admitted that the files that did not make it into The Linkup file management system are still on its servers and can be accessed through the Mediamax file manager. The bad news is that it refuses to do so. More on that in a moment. First some background on why Nirvanix has broken its silence regarding Mediamax.

Before setting up this blog, I had an exchange of emails with Nirvanix, including the following question sent on 11 July 2008:

---question from Luzo Orbit to Nirvanix
According to an investor, Charlie Jackson: "Around the time this spin-out was happening, Nirvanix engineers screwed up royally and accidentally deleted half the files. Most were recovered over time, but it took months, and there was never 100% recovery (I never got some of files back)." See:

As the problem with missing data appears to have been caused by Nirvanix, I am surprised that you are unprepared to do more. After all had Nivanix engineers not 'screwed up royally and accidentally deleted half the files' it is unlikely that Mediamax/The Linkup would have gone under.

Once again, I ask that you do nothing to delete this data without the permission of its owners.
---end of email

After setting up the blog and inviting Nirvanix to comment, I received an email on 18 July pointing out that we are not Nirvanix users, which I duly posted to the site at:

This did not respond to the specific question raised about the allegation that it was Nirvanix engineers that deleted the data, so I emailed again on 22 July:

---Luzo email of 22 July to Nirvanix
I note that Nirvanix does not challenge the claim made by Charlie Jackson that it was Nirvanix engineers that accidently deleted files entrusted to you by Mediamax.

If you do have a statement giving further details, I would appreciate it.
---email ends

I have had no answer to that email.

I see from an anonymous comment posted to the last entry here, however, that Nirvanix has posted on its blog today (28 July) about Mediamax at:

This states: "We would like to take time to answer questions that have resulted from this closure [of Mediamax], as well as dispel some inaccurate and blatantly false information that is being reported on certain blogs."

Well, they can't mean this blog as they were invited to comment, and comments that have been supplied have been posted. They did not contradict the claim that it was Nirvanix engineers that deleted the data although it was put to them specifically and repeatedly.

Later the Nirvanix blog refers to data being deleted as follows:

---extract from Nivanix blog
I have read that Nirvanix is to blame for the difficulties at MediaMax/The Linkup.

This is simply not true and this false speculation has been spread by a handful of angry blog posts and perpetuated by a popular technology blog that did not verify its story by contacting Nirvanix.
---extract ends

If the allegation was not true, why didn't Nirvanix say so when asked on 11 July or since? Or does it prefer to taint the reputation of all blogs by suggesting they are 'angry' and do not verify information?

Those familiar with this debacle are well aware that lousy communication has been a major part of the problem. It is a shame that Nirvanix is following the same route of vilifying customers with genuine concerns on its blog rather than engaging with them. So we know what Nirvanix is posting I've found how to add an RSS feed reader to the side panel here.

Nirvanix admits that it could recover Mediamax files that did not make it into The Linkup file management. The last word from Mediamax (specifically its Director of Communications, John Hood) was it is up to Nirvanix whether it gives access to Mediamax files or not.

If Mediamax has told us that Nirvanix can give access to the files, I think we have a right to know why Nirvanix will not do so. Or perhaps Nirvanix can persuade John Hood to return to explain why he was wrong to say they could.

If there are difficulties in gaining access to the Mediamax database, surely those could be resolved.

I would suggest anyone who things it doesn't matter and we should all shut up, should read some of the posts on this and the preceding users blogs of the heartbreak and financial loss caused by lack of access to this data.

This is a problem with a solution. Come on, Nirvanix. Please try a little harder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Look carefully at Nirvanix intermediary companies before entrusting your data to them

You may agree with the first part of the following quote - though not the second.

“With more and more people moving their valuable family photos, home video, music collections and more to the digital arena, the need for offsite backup is growing fast. Nirvanix has the features people want most.”

Many people entrusted valuable files to the on-line archiving, file sharing and hosting company known as Streamload. Streamload rebranded as Mediamax, then span off the customer interface, which took the Mediamax name with it. The storage facilities remained with most of the Streamload staff and was renamed Nirvanix. According to media reports - which Nirvanix has not denied though specifically asked to comment - Nirvanix engineers then accidently deleted millions of files. The resulting outrage prompted Mediamax to rebrand as The Linkup to try to escape the controversy, but it did not succeed and is closing down on 8 August. Many of the files that were not deleted, did not make it into The Linkup interface from the Mediamax one. The Linkup said in a final message: "Your files are at Nirvanix. It's now up to them to decide if they want to give you access to MediaMax."

[UPDATE 29 July 2008: Although invited to comment specifically on these media reports prior to this blog opening, Nirvanix, in its reply, did not do so. Today it has emailed alleging the Techcrunch article is 'inaccurate and libelous'].

Nirvanix refuses to offer assistance to users in retrieving their 'valuable family photos, home video, music collections' and other important documents even though some customers are even offering to pay extra for this service. Further details and links at:

You won't find any of this story on the Nirvanix website on its page of case studies. Instead it gives quotes such as that above from other intermediary companies. The quote above is from the Axentra Corporation.

Given that Nirvanix is refusing to assist users in retrieving the data which they still hold on their servers and that apparently it was Nirvanix engineers who deleted the files that led to the failure of Mediamax, anyone seeking on-line storage solutions would do well to look closely to see whether Nirvanix is providing the back-end storage for any company they do business with.

They would also be wise to check the terms and conditions of the service provider to see whether any responsibility is taken for the data and whether they have any recourse to Nirvanix should the company fail for whatever reason.

As cloud storage seems to be the future, the current lack of transparency and security of data is a serious cause for concern and one requiring urgent investigation by politicians and journalists.

Until there is clear protection in law, look very carefully at the companies to which you entrust your data, particularly those that use Nirvanix as their storage provider, which are listed here (as given on the Nirvanix website):

  • Axentra
  • City Talent
  • Elasticdrive
  • Focusfriends.net
  • Freedrive
  • InfiniteBits.info
  • ManualsMania
  • Minggi
  • Ogrant
  • WizzDrive

Friday, July 18, 2008

Please note that you are not a Nirvanix user

I have received the message given below from Nirvanix in response to my email alerting the company to this blog. Basically, the message says the fact that our data is on Nirvanix servers does not make us Nirvanix users. A little unfair, I think, as we have being contributing to their income over the past year.

On the last blog entry I floated the idea of a Senate or Congressional Hearing. The mood I see from comments on the post is this is not going to happen. I have to bow to the greater knowledge of people in the US.

If this was a UK company we would, at the very least, be able to persuade a Member of Parliament, or group of them, to call company representatives to a meeting to explain their position. It is not a UK company so we will not be able to do that.

However, it should be straightforward to have a question asked in Parliament about the issues arising from this case, to be answered by a member of the Government, such as the Minister for Trade and Industry. I think there are issues about the nature of cross-border file storage and the lack of accountability shown by those holding the data which should concern any government.

Personally I don't have a problem with lost files as I only used Mediamax for hosting files for podcasts, rather than file sharing or backing up. But if there are UK readers of this blog who have lost access to files who wish to raise this in the UK Parliament, let me know and we can work on this.

For an indication of how little help we can expect from Nirvanix, here is the message:

---Email to Luzo Orbit from Nirvanix
Mr. Orbit,

Thank you for forwarding your new blog spot. Please note that you are not a Nirvanix user. You are a MediaMax/theLinkUp user. I believe this was covered with you extensively.

Please also refer to your vendor's website at http://tlublog.blogspot.com/ where it states:

Additional information (Updated: July 11, 2008 @ 5:45pm):

An update to answer several questions that we have received:

1. The only files that are available for download are the files that are currently in your The Linkup account.

2. Nirvanix cannot provide access to any additional data or assist with accessing your files. Please do not contact them.


Best Regards,

---email ends

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to call for a Senate or Congressional Hearing?

Does anyone have experience of Senate or Congressional Hearings? I only know how things work in Brazil and the UK, where the issues this case raises might interest a politician in conducting an inquiry if the companies involved were based there.

As they are US companies, is there an existing committee that people could contact to ask it to look at the issue of data ownership and protection in the age of remote storage? Or would it be necessary to ask a Senator or Member of Congress to take some action?

A quick search of the internet has turned up sites that make it very easy to contact elected representatives, but it would be good to develop a suggested message first, with a call to action. Something short and self-explanatory along the following lines perhaps (leave comments with your opinions):

---Possible draft message
I am contacting you as your are my representative in the Senate/Congress. I request that you support an inquiry into the issue of data ownership and protection in the age of remote storage via the internet. Increasingly people are using on-line services to back up and share data.

In a current case a company has gone bankrupt meaning people will lose access to their data, some of which has been collected for years and some of which has great personal or financial value. The company that has gone bankrupt (Mediamax) sub-contracted storage to another company (Nirvanix), both of which have their origin in another company (Streamload) which made the service agreement with many of the data owners. The data on the servers is shortly to be destroyed by Nirvanix, which continues to offer third-party storage to other service companies.

An inquiry is needed to investigate :

(1) how responsbility for storing thousands of gigabytes of data were transferred from Streamload to Nirvanix without data owners having a direct relationship with Nirvanix,

(2) the deletion of millions of files, apparently due to a Nirvanix mistake, which harmed the image of Mediamax to the point its business has failed and, in particular, whether there was any deliberate intention to drive legacy customers away so space could be freed for other, possibly more lucrative, customers,

[UPDATE 29 July 2008: Although invited to comment specifically on these media reports prior to this blog opening, Nirvanix, in its reply, did not do so. Today it has emailed alleging the Techcrunch article that reproduced a comment alleging it was a Nirvanix employee who deleted the files is 'inaccurate and libelous'].

(3) the responsibility that Nirvanix, as holder of the data and successor to Streamload, has in reuniting owners with their data,

(4) data protection issues concerning the fact that users of the system found files from other people turning up in their accounts, and

(5) the general issue of ownership and protection of data stored via the internet, particularly when this is subcontracted to third parties. If current legislation will not enable people to retrieve their data from Nirvanix or receive compensation for lost data, are new laws needed?

I look forward to your views.

Apple is different

How different it is to work with a decent company like Apple rather than the Mediamax/The Linkup fiasco.

I use Apple for my backing up my important documents, which are in a partitioned section of my hard drive which syncs to my iDisk on the Apple servers. It is a very easy way to back up and the files can be accessed from any computer by logging in through the web page. There is also a public folder on the iDisk, which I have password protected. My colleagues have an image of this on their computers and we can share large documents just by dropping them into this folder.


Now, Apple has just changed the system over to mobileme. There was forewarning of this and all users are automatically transferred. Past features have been maintained. All my files are still there.

They have added new features, however, and this hasn't gone totally smoothly.

But just look at this message I have received from Apple. How different it would have been if Mediamax had sent out emails such as this instead of emails telling free users the service was being rebranded and their accounts and files would be deleted in a week if they didn't pay up.

---Apple's email
We have recently completed the transition from .Mac to MobileMe. Unfortunately, it was a lot rockier than we had hoped.

Although core services such as Mail, iDisk, Sync, Back to My Mac, and Gallery went relatively smoothly, the new MobileMe web applications had lots of problems initially. Fortunately we have worked through those problems and the web apps are now up and running.

Another snag we have run into is our use of the word "push" in describing everything under the MobileMe umbrella. While all email, contact or calendar changes on the iPhone and the web apps are immediately synced to and from the MobileMe "cloud," changes made on a PC or Mac take up to 15 minutes to sync with the cloud and your other devices. So even though things are indeed instantly pushed to and from your iPhone and the web apps today, we are going to stop using the word "push" until it is near-instant on PCs and Macs, too.

We want to apologize to our loyal customers and express our appreciation for their patience by giving all current subscribers an automatic 30-day extension to their MobileMe subscription free of charge. Your extension will be reflected in your account settings within the next few weeks.
We hope you enjoy your new suite of web applications at me.com, in addition to keeping your iPhone and iPod touch wirelessly in sync with these new web applications and your Mac or PC.

Thank you,

The MobileMe Team
---email ends

It may have been the fault of Nirvanix rather than Mediamax that millions of files were deleted, but Mediamax could have been up front about it instead of deliberately lying when it claimed the files were not even stored on Nirvanix.

Monday, July 14, 2008

About this blog

Once upon a time there was a company called Streamload offering data backup, file sharing and file hosting services.

It was very popular as it offered unlimited storage, instead charging for downloads by volume. Some users had many gigabytes of data stored, even thousands of gigabytes.

Streamload, without any discussion with customers, separated the storage function - the actual servers - from customer liaison - the user interface, billing and customer support.

Storage was handled by a new company, Nirvanix, where most Streamload employees continued to work.

The customer end was called Mediamax and Streamload customers were transferred to it.

During this re-structuring a disaster occurred. An investor, Charlie Jackson, explained in a posting on the Techcrunch website: "Around the time this spin-out was happening, Nirvanix engineers screwed up royally and accidentally deleted half the files. Most were recovered over time, but it took months, and there was never 100% recovery (I never got some of files back)."

[UPDATE 29 July 2008: Although invited to comment specifically on these media reports prior to this blog opening, Nirvanix, in its reply, did not do so. Today it has emailed alleging the Techcrunch article that reproduced a comment alleging it was a Nirvanix employee who deleted the files is 'inaccurate and libelous'].

See the full article quoting this posting at:

Mediamax was slow to explain what happened. It's official blog gave little information and did not allow comments. Customer support was slow to reply and many customers found the information misleading.

An unofficial users blog was set up called 'Mediamax - we need you!'. See:

Eventually Mediamax Communications Director, John Hood, accepted the offer to post information. He was adamant that there was no longer any connection between Mediamax and Nirvanix. A posting on the official blog responded to a Techcrunch article questioning what connection there was as follows, as reported on the users blog at:

---Quote from the Mediamax blog
The consumer online service became "MediaMax" and a second entity, Nirvanix, was founded as a new and separate company. We ("MediaMax") continue to focus on the consumer online storage space (B2C) as we have done for many years. We can't talk about Nirvanix as they are an independent company; however, we can say that we never changed over to Nirvanix, as the article suggested, and are not using their new system now.
---quote ends

Users were correct to distrust this assurance and the claim that the companies were independent. John Hood admitted the truth in July 2008 - see his full post at:

---Quote from John Hood post
I think the only time we intentionally lied was when we denied being a customer of Nirvanix. That was a Nirvanix demand.... And yes, your files are at Nirvanix. It's now up to them to decide if they want to give you access to MediaMax.
---quote ends

So apparently Mediamax lied about where files were hosted at the insistance of Nirvanix.

With millions of files gone, reportedly due to a Nirvanix error, a file recovery process was initiated by Mediamax, but had only limited success. The image of Mediamax bombed. Its awful handling of customer relations was a major contributing factor (see the user blog for examples).

Posters to the Mediamax Users blog tracked the process and some engaged with Mediamax on testing a new file-managing system. To the users surprise this was suddenly launched in April 2008 as a beta project with an annoucement that the Mediamax system would close. The new system had a new name: The Linkup. This was still the Mediamax company, however, and still using Nirvanix for storage.

Mediamax signatories with free accounts had these closed and their data deleted in the re-branding exercise. Some received a week's notice by email, some say they never received any notification at all. Some returned from a week off line to find all their data - not already deleted by the 'Nirvanix screw up' - had gone for ever.

Paying customers were told to schedule the transfer of their files from Mediamax to The Linkup interface. The scheduler didn't work and was discontinued. Mediamax said it would arrange the transfer itself. Apparently 45% of files failed to register under The Linkup's user interface and were lost. Links to hosted files also died, despite a promise to maintain the Mediamax links, at least until December 2008. Stung by criticism that he was wrong when he said problems had been solved, John Hood commented in a post after he had left The Linkup, see:

---Quote from John Hood
And for the record I've never lied. I simply related what I was told by Engineering. Sometimes they weren't able to live up to their promises but that's true for every tech company. There was nothing nefarious going on. We're guilty of not living up to expectations for the service not of lying.
---quote ends

So Mediamax customers found themselves to be customers of The Linkup, with more problems than before, and an unoffical forum for users of The Linkup was started at:

In a poll on the blog, 47% (51 votes) said the found The Linkup useless and were leaving. The same number said they lived in hope of being able to access their files. 6% (5 votes) said they found The Linkup service 'Brilliant - much improved'.

One positive development was that The Linkup did allow comments on its official blog and the unofficial blog directed people there. However, The Linkup later turned off comments and deleted those that had been left as many were reporting faults and making complaints. In addition some people found files from strangers in their accounts and were trying to identify who the real owners might be. This careless handling of private data by The Linkup was possibly a breach of data protection law and something it did not want to draw attention to.

Then in July 2008 The Linkup suddenly announced it was closing down and that people had until 8 August to download files, if the files had been registered in The Linkup system.

An indication of the support The Linkup can be expected to provide during this period is shown by the fact the Communications Director has already left the company. A user reports receiving a parting message regarding possible refunds as follows, see:

---Quote begins
Thanks for writing. I'm sorry to hear that you haven't been able to access your files. I wish I could give you a refund, but we simply have no money. In fact, the company is several hundred thousands of dollars in debt and will soon be filing for bankruptcy. I thnk you only recourse is to join the company's other creditors in bankruptcy court.


John Hood
Director, Customer Support
The Linkup
---quote ends

So what assistance can be expected from Nirvanix, which holds data belonging to others and, according to the report quoted above, was responsible for deleting millions of files, the error that brought down Mediamax. The answer is : none at all. It's message to users of The Linkup is available at:

--Message from Nirvanix to Luzo Orbit
Dear Mr Orbit,

theLinkUp (TLU) built their applications using Nirvanix as a back end storage platform, connecting their application to our service through an API. Without the TLU application, and its database which maps users to their files Nirvanix cannot decipher which files belong to each user. The same is true for any application interaction with back end storage and is not unique to TLU.

As has been noted by many TLU users, many cannot either find their files or have found that other TLU files are in their accounts. This isn't a physical storage issue but rather TLU has somehow corrupted their database in the build or deployment of the TLU application. Unfortunately, as we are completely separate companies, Nirvanix has had no control over the build, deployment or management of the TLU application nor will we when it is shut down on August 8th, 2008.

For the benefit of TLU customers, Nirvanix has agreed to extend its data services to TLU, at no cost, so that files that are in TLU system can be retrieved during the period stated on their site. After the TLU application ceases, there will be no way to access the files.
Best Regards,

---message ends

To my mind, Nirvanix should show a little more concern for users. If it was a company warehousing house contents I doubt it would be able to dump everything in the incinerator simply because an agent had mislaid some keys and their filing cabinet had fallen over and the index cards had become mixed up. Particularly if the warehousing company was part of the same enterprise when entrusted with the items.

How Nirvanix responds to customers who paid, via Mediamax/The Linkup, for its services will become evident up to the 8 August and beyond.

This case raises important questions for anyone using on-line storage, sharing and hosting services who may think it wise to ask who is actually storing the data and what responsibility they will take for it.

Many people fear they have lost irreplacable and valuable data, though it still exists on Nirvanix servers.

The principles around who is responsible for data in cases such as this may be something that requires investigation by a Congressional or Senate Committee.

Follow this blog for news.