When it comes to legal technology, there’s no question that the cloud is all the rage today. While the cloud offers many advantages over traditional on-premise software, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for everything. While more and more cloud-based solutions are appearing in the e-discovery arena, e-discovery presents some special considerations that need to be taken into account before making a decision in the on-premise vs. cloud debate.
In any discussion of the cloud, security is always at the top of people’s lists of concerns. One of the big draws of on-premise software over cloud-based software is the ability to have hands-on control and ensure security through your firm’s firewall and other sophisticated security measures. In the case of something as important as e-discovery, where the protection of confidential and sensitive information is a serious concern, many firms have historically been reluctant to relinquish that control and trust in the security of the cloud.
While the cloud may have originally raised real questions regarding security, those concerns have long since been addressed. In fact, a lack of security in the cloud is a huge misperception—the cloud might be safer than some of its on-premise counterparts these days. Vendors who routinely deal in the storage of sensitive information have invested significant money and resources in security. Major cloud-based e-discovery solutions like RelativityOne are built on the Microsoft Azure cloud or comparable cloud servers. Most corporations now require some form (or multiple forms) of security certifications such as SSAE16, certain HIPAA requirements, as well as ISO, to name a few. These certifications can cost organizations tens of thousands of dollars per year to obtain and maintain. Cloud providers like Microsoft and Amazon spend over $1 billion a year on security research and development and have huge teams dedicated to ensuring network security. Even the most security-focused law firm can’t hope to meet that level of investment. When you opt for cloud-based e-discovery solutions, you get to take full advantage of that advanced security without having to invest in it yourself.
At the end of the day, many technology decisions at law firms come down to a question of cost. Spending for on-premise vs. cloud-based e-discovery software differs greatly. Conducting e-discovery with on-premise solutions requires a much larger capital investment upfront in crucial hardware like servers and backup drives, as well as IT staff to support and maintain the system. Investing in the on-premise infrastructure necessary to securely store e-discovery data is an ongoing expense and not an insignificant one. It often requires IT buy-in for purchase and support, but even in today’s world, many IT departments still do not understand the advanced requirements for hardware for e-discovery. Many IT departments still operate their e-discovery infrastructure on the same oversubscribed hardware that is used for regular infrastructure, causing performance issues that are only seen by the IT department, and do not always practice support.
In contrast, most cloud-based e-discovery solutions are provided on a software as a service (SaaS) basis with a monthly subscription. The SaaS provider makes the initial investment in systems, servers, and IT staff. As the subscriber, the law firm takes advantage of that infrastructure already in place, simply paying for necessary services as they’re used. Subscription-based services allow firms to stay competitive with the most cutting-edge technology but without the often prohibitive investment of capital.
One of the greatest advantages that cloud-based storage has over on-premise storage is scalability. When you use on-premise storage, you have to have a fairly good sense in advance of how much storage you will need, not just now, but in the long run. If you run out of storage, you have to scramble to add more servers. Perhaps worse, though, is if you overestimate how much storage you’ll need. In those situations, you’re stuck paying a lot of money for storage you aren’t actually using.
Cloud-based storage, on the other hand, is infinitely flexible. When you use a cloud-based e-discovery system from a SaaS vendor, the vendor’s entire system is at your disposal. When you need more storage or processing power, you simply increase your subscription plan and pay a little more. If your project shrinks unexpectedly, you can scale back to just the amount of storage you need, saving money in the process by no longer paying for unused storage.
Like almost everything else in the digital era, the legal profession has become a mobile one. Lawyers no longer do all their work from their offices—they’re expected (or sometimes choose) to work wherever they are, whenever something needs to get done. Because they depend on your firm’s internal security measures, on-premise e-discovery systems often can only be accessed at your office or through specific remote access protocols. The story is very different for cloud-based systems. When e-discovery is hosted in the cloud, your employees can access it anywhere on any device, as long as there’s an internet connection. In addition to making things more convenient for your employees, this also makes it much easier to coordinate geographically dispersed review teams.
Cloud-based systems also tend to be less susceptible to interruptions caused by power outages or natural disasters because they have a more robust and less centralized backup system. SaaS vendors can manage necessary system upgrades and updates in a way that minimizes disruption to your project as well. On-premise interruptions are much more difficult to control.
Many cloud-based systems also have mobile apps that allow users to collaborate in the cloud, review documents in the cloud, and manage their application from their iPad or tablet. The ability to make a responsive call on a document, shift resources around or simply catch up on the status of a project from the comfort of your couch and your mobile device can give any user the type of accessibility needed to stay productive.
While most of the considerations outlined above point to a likely industrywide shift toward cloud-based e-discovery, each firm still needs to take into account its own specific circumstances before proceeding with a given project. If your firm is one of the few that has already significantly invested in on-premise servers, security and support staff, on-premise e-discovery solutions might continue to be the right answer for the time being.
If, however, you’re like many firms and have not made the necessary investment or are looking to cut expenses in these areas, you should strongly consider making the switch to cloud-based e-discovery. Just because you’ve always done your e-discovery on-premise in the past, that doesn’t mean you have to continue down that path in the future.
There’s a good reason more and more firms are making the move to the cloud. Between reduced investment in infrastructure, enhanced security and increased scalability and accessibility, cloud-based storage solutions offer benefits over traditional on-premise e-discovery solutions that might just be too good to pass up.