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Cloud Computing, Green Screens and ILTA 2010

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cloud Computing, Green Screens and ILTA 2010

The overwhelming theme for me at the The 2010 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) this year in Las Vegas was the debate (or waning debate) over the value of Cloud Computing and delivering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in the legal technology market.  Just about every legal technology vendor that I talked to had either introduced some type of Cloud Computing and/or SaaS offering in the past 12 months or was introducing it at ITLA.

What was interesting was the politically correct posturing by many on the vendor floor and in the various sessions.  Just about every vendor that I talked to approached the discussion about Cloud Computing and SaaS by first establishing my view of the subject.   The process of determining where I stood on the issue was not that dissimilar to many of the after hours discussions about whether or not they should build a mosque near ground zero.

Being a very very early advocate of Cloud Computing and SaaS in general and therefore a verbal “trail blazer” of support for Cloud Computing and SaaS in the legal technology market, I never really got a chance to to hear the justification of how the various vendors are still trying to placate the Cloud Computing and SaaS gatekeepers and  laggards that don’t believe that Cloud Computing and SaaS belongs in the sacred and security conscience world of eDiscovery and legal technology.  Having not heard any of the justifications directly I guess that will have to just imagine that it was not that dissimilar to the arguments of days gone by when vendors were assuring the market that MS Windows was not really that much different than the command line on the green screen and Word Perfect was really not that much different than a yellow legal pad.  And, technology could be your friend and that you didn’t have to be afraid of change.  Anyway, I guess I should have posed as a anti-cloud activist, heard the vendor messaging and then I wouldn’t have to imagine how the objections were handled.

On a more serious and somewhat scientific note, Chris Dale reported in his recap of the 2010 ILTA show titled,  “ILTA 2010 in Las Vegas: Strategic Unity, Defensibility and the Cloud,” that  “This idea that perfection must be qualified by cost and proportionality recurred in a session on cloud computing (please note that I encourage you to read Mr. Dale’s full report as it will provide the framework and foundation for framing his comments on Cloud Computing with the concept of “perfection must be qualified by cost and proportionality”). The panelists were Jack Halprin of Autonomy iManage, Michael Lackey of Mayer Brown and  (in a welcome return to the ILTA conference platform after a long absence) Jonathan Maas of Ernst & Young.  Cloud computing remains a contentious area, with no obvious agreement even as to what the term means, let alone as to its implications. Autonomy iManage is the largest provider of cloud services in this market, so Jack Halprin’s position was never in doubt; Michael Lackey, himself an enthusiast, admitted that many of his partners had mixed views or were against the idea; Jonathan Maas set himself up as an opponent, providing a handy whetstone for the other panelists to sharpen their blades on. Michael Lackey’s approach was similar to the one I take with opponents of electronic disclosure – dissect the objections one at a time, accepting that there is room for more than one view, and testing the arguments against the alternatives.  Arguments based on pure cost are pretty compelling, and if one method of achieving an objective is very much cheaper than others, then the burden shifts to those who argue for the more expensive route.”

Chris goes on to say that, “Jack Halprin emphasized the difference between public cloud providers like Google, and those like Autonomy and others who segregate data in private and identifiable silos. The key word here is perhaps “identifiable”, which connotes a geographical certainty as well as anything else. I sometimes wonder if the imagery associated with cloud computing (invariably a jagged line disappearing into some cumulus) does not leave some people with the idea that their precious data is indeed floating in some inchoate container up in the air. If you neglect to provide in your contract that your data remains in a specified jurisdiction, and if you fail to conduct proper due diligence checks on the provider, then you deserve all you get. Like any risk assessment, it involves weighing cost against other factors; most of those other factors are definable and quantifiable.”

There is no doubt that Cloud Computing and the SaaS delivery model are much more economic than any of the legacy models.  And, I would honestly challenge any of the anti-cloud crowd to debate the security issues vis-a-vie the security (or lack there of) of their current systems.  The barn door opened a long time ago and most of the horses are already gone and roaming the countryside.  As I stated earlier this week, I am amazed at users that routinely communicate with GMAIL, have facebook and LinkedIn accounts and access their corporate email at Starbucks but think that Cloud Computing and SaaS is not secure enough for the legal market.

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