Cloud Crisis

Cloud computing--the internet-based storage of digital information--has become increasingly commonplace in both the consumer and corporate legal worlds. Using the technology has many advantages as well as several disadvantages. (Read "Cloud Control" for the full scoop on cloud computing.)

One of the most frequently cited cloud-related risks is the problem of servers hosted "in the cloud" crashing and eliminating users' ability to access their information. This could happen with myriad types of data: e-discovery files hosted outside the corporate firewall, customer data or enterprise backup data.

At the beginning of September, millions of people across the globe had to briefly endure just that type of crash. It turned a common, scary "what if" scenario into widespread reality, at least for an hour and a half. Gmail, Google's online e-mail client, went down for 100 minutes Sept. 1, leaving the majority of its 150 million users unable to get to their accounts.

According to Google's official Gmail blog, the outage was caused by routine maintenance gone awry.

Although the disruption was relatively short, it's exactly the type of cloud crisis that experts worry about in a legal setting.

"It's about having access when you need it," says Ramana Venkata, Chief operating officer of Iron Mountain Digital. "Because when lawyers need data, they need it now."

For example, if there is a court deadline, technology problems probably won't fly as an excuse for delay. But for better or worse, cloud computing has already arrived as an unavoidable part of business, and at this point there are no easy answers for avoiding some problems. Laws and court decisions have not caught up to the cloud yet and the technology is not yet perfected.

"We have Gutenberg laws and Star Wars technology," says John Bace, research vice president at Gardner Inc, an information technology research firm. "It creates a conundrum for companies."

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