Weathering the COVID-19 storm
We all know that cloud computing, be it infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) or software as a service (SaaS), has been around for a good number of years now, accompanied throughout that time by often vociferous debate regarding its merits, cost and security when compared with the traditional on-premises alternatives (like a data centre in your basement). I mean, why would you need cloud when your existing infrastructure, IT staff, disaster recovery sites and VPN access can provide the same service for your employees anyway? And certainly, the biggest bone of contention in the professional services sector has been the security of clients’ data. All very valid concerns and questions.
However, then ask yourself the question, what happens when a large complement of your IT staff fall ill or can’t come into the office, all your employees are working from home and all want to access the corporate network via the VPN? How will you even operate a support desk to provide end-user support? This will likely have you scurrying around establishing what the maximum number of concurrent connections is, whether your VPN concentrator can scale and establishing whether your Internet link has sufficient bandwidth to support this new way of working. Followed by a period of extreme effort, putting in place emergency solutions.
The above scenario (and questions) are suddenly very real issues that companies are facing, with COVID-19 and global governments’ lockdown responses to contain the spread of the virus.
Reflecting on our own situation, when we deployed our SaaS eDiscovery platform, EDT, a few years back, we considered a number of on-premises and cloud solutions, in so doing weighing up the factors mentioned above, such as costs, scalability, resilience and security, among others.
After much due diligence and debate, we decide to deploy into the cloud for a number of reasons, but they could all be summed up as… reduced risk. The cloud provider is able to manage a large part of the risk for us, particularly with respect to the physical infrastructure, network controls and application level controls, leaving us to focus on our core strength, which is providing an effective eDiscovery service to our clients. And from the security perspective, Microsoft, as with all reputable data centre and cloud solution providers, has ISO 27001 certification and spends orders of magnitude more on security than is even feasible for individual companies to invest in their on-premises infrastructures. So, we felt the perceived risk was well mitigated.
COVID-19 has really put our decision to deploy in the cloud to the test, with our entire team and the vast majority of our clients having to self-isolate and work from home. To date, our decision has been vindicated, as the Microsoft Azure-based SaaS platform has remained robust, resilient and secure, clients can access it and work from anywhere at any time of the day or night (many needing now to work flexibly around new home-schooling demands) and similarly, we can support them in this, regardless of where we are.
But it is not only the cloud-based eDiscovery platform that has stood up to the test. As a business, we have also been running Microsoft Office 365 for several years now and O365, and more recently, Teams, have allowed us to continue as a distributed organisation, communicating with our support teams, cloud architects and clients seamlessly. We can run screen sharing sessions with clients to support or train them and hold virtual planning and project meetings. All of these interactions are audited, recorded and discoverable. Yes, we could also do this from the office, but I think that is also the point… cloud allows your office to be anywhere, in any situation (even COVID-19). It also allows your clientele to be anywhere, regardless of whether they are a large law firm, a boutique investigatory firm, a corporate legal team or, frankly, anyone.
In our experience, cloud software and collaboration services are just an Internet link away and have kept us connected and relevant even in this most unsettled COVID-19 storm.
So, what can you do?
Several vendors are promoting offers of assistance, making their cloud solutions available with very worthwhile periods of grace on any licensing. These can look attractive, but the extent to which you are able to take advantage of these offers may well depend on where you are on your journey to the cloud; for example, Microsoft Teams can readily be deployed to facilitate Web-based meetings, communication and collaboration, but embarking from scratch on a project to migrate legacy data from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud remains a significant project and one that typically takes months of planning and enactment. However, if you have already migrated your content to the cloud, you stand far more prepared to benefit from some of these offers.
So, whether you’re able to take advantage of the current range of offers partially, in full or not at all, I do believe that once the current situation has passed, the experiences good and bad will serve to highlight the validity and viability of cloud as an essential component in providing business continuity and resilience. Those vendors that offer cloud-compatible solutions and those that build complementary solutions on top of underlying technologies, such as O365, will see strong future performance, with those that do not becoming ever more marginalised.
David Fisk is the Managing Director of Salient Discovery UK. David has spent 12 years working with innovative AI and machine-learning solutions in the legal sector and now applies his experience to simplifying the delivery of eDisclosure, eDiscovery and Analytics for law firms, investigatory firms and corporates.