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The business case for cloud-based governance and e-discovery services

Moving at least some data management processes to the cloud has numerous potential benefits, such as decreased costs and increased efficiency. Too often, however, companies fail to meet key requirements when choosing cloud service providers, and as a result, fail to realize their economic objectives, according to information governance expert Jeffrey Ritter.

In this three-part SearchCompliance webcast, Ritter presents key strategies for using cloud-based services that also comply with the dynamic demands of e-discovery. In part one, he discussed the information governance considerations of moving business operations to the cloud, including potential cost increases when using cloud-based e-discovery services.

Jeffrey Ritter: When C-level executives are finishing their golf game or getting off a long bike ride, it seems that one is always telling the other of two things: It's either, 'Go to the cloud because it saves money -- it's faster, it's cheaper.' Or it's, 'We need to improve e-discovery processes because it's just costing us too much.' Both of these claims are legitimate, and they often are brought back to the office and shared within the company. It is inevitable with that kind of dialogue occurring at the C-level, vendors and cloud service providers are learning to not only help your company go to the cloud, but also to improve the cloud e-discovery services once there. This creates the magical elixir of better services with less corporate investment and overall lower cost of execution.

That can be a bit challenging to navigate, but what I can do is to present to you five proven strategies on how to evaluate and acquire cloud-based e-discovery services. These strategies will allow you to respond to those C-level mandates to 'go to the cloud' and will also improve e-discovery services at the same time. But to get to those strategies, we have to first set in place two other preliminary objectives. We're going to begin by talking about identifying the business case for going to the cloud itself. E-discovery in the cloud is not just plain vanilla cloud services. There are aspects of this that make it challenging to actually do. We're going to talk about two of those as a predicate to our second objective, which is to expose some of the key requirements for moving general business services to the cloud.

More on e-discovery strategy:

The keys to implementing cloud-based e-discovery
Privacy laws hinder e-discovery when using cloud services

Time after time, companies miss these key requirements, and as a result, fail to realize their economic and operational objectives. Only if we understand those key requirements will the strategies that are the core aspects of this webcast make sense.

Let's get started by talking about the business case for going to the cloud. One of the things that really makes this challenging is that you first have to ask the basic question: 'What is the cloud?' The first step is to come up with a definition that is functional to what we're trying to accomplish: Using electronic information as evidence with greater efficiency, lower costs and all the other benefits that are discussed in the vendor elixir. So, what is the cloud? The cloud is any contract with a service provider to perform IT-related business services via the Internet. It's really just that simple. Rather than providing the services on site, the service provider is working through the Internet to make the business services available. The key to this concept is the notion of 24/7 availability.

The 24/7 availability is its essential feature, and the other concept is to reduce -- or even perhaps take to zero -- the demand that the customer faces for hardware, software or personnel. Its goal is to allow the business to use the contract to acquire services from their direct service provider to save money, achieve a better ROI for the company, and ultimately achieve a higher return for shareholders. But when we're contracting in the cloud, we're not getting the identical services that we can perform using our own machines and software, instead, we're getting equivalent services. So when we're contracting with the service provider, actually reaching that equivalent is one of the key challenges we face.

When we're looking at moving to the cloud using a service provider, the industry and government have largely adopted three broad categories: software as a service, where the user or corporate customer accesses the software across the internet; platform as a service, which is where the Internet-based service provider provides a facility where companies can develop and build applications and systems; and infrastructure as a service, really just bare bones machines available to be used by the customer on demand. It can be an entire system -- servers, data farms and bandwidth access. These are three broad categories of service when we're talking about the cloud.

The simple truth is, just about everything we can do in e-discovery -- the processing, collection and movement of information as potential evidence -- can be done in the cloud. If your corporation is connected to the Internet, you can access service providers offering e-discovery services that can be reformed at any point in the e-discovery lifecycle. As a result, you're going to find there are a lot of different contractual approaches -- whether for platform as a service, software as a service, or infrastructure as a service -- through which the service provider can meet your needs.

But there's one other question that is critical to understanding the cloud's impact upon business: Where is my corporate electronically stored information? The cloud is itself part of the Internet, and the services being provided by the service provider are often distributed to multiple data centers and multiple physical locations.

There are three truths that we have to keep in mind when we're thinking about moving to the cloud: First, virtually all cloud-based services require the physical transfer of the electronically stored information (ESI) be processed through those services. In other words, if I'm using the infrastructure to store data, I have to transfer that data to the server and to the service provider. If I'm using a software application to review the ESI for potential production, I'm moving that data into the software environment, onto the server operated by the cloud service provider. Once that data is moved, however, then the service providers reserve the right to control the locations from which they execute their services.

Service providers will often maintain multiple data centers and balance the load as customers go online, come offline, and make different demands upon their infrastructure. Of course, this creates a real problem for corporations who transferred the information, particularly when it comes to inactive data. You may not actually know at any given moment in time where your physical ESI is within the cloud service that the service provider is delivering. Many service providers' operations become even more complex when they subcontract some of their services, particularly for infrastructure.

If this is all true, what are the consequences for the corporation that's looking to make the business case for moving the cloud? The reality is that the locations that data is processed or stored by cloud providers can directly impact the calculation of the costs offered by the service provider. If the corporate customer requires the data locations to be limited for reasons such as e-discovery, it's going to have a completely adverse influence on the cost. Virtually all service providers will increase the cost when they're being constrained in the locations in which they can store their data. As a result, location and understanding the services being described become key variables when actually making the business case.

There's one other thing, though, about e-discovery in the cloud: Companies hope a service provider is going to be providing services that comply with the different, and sometimes volatile, rules of e-discovery. Or will they?

Please visit SearchCompliance.com to view the next segment in this webcast, where Jeffrey Ritter will continue his discussion on cloud-based e-discovery strategies.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, site editor. For IT compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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