A voice came from on high and said unto me, "Go forth and harvest the clouds." Well, not a voce in excelsis exactly, but a court order directing I gather up parties' webmail.
The task seemed simple enough: The litigants would surrender their login credentials, and I'd collect and process their messages for relevance while segregating for privilege review.
Their data lived "in the cloud," and considering its celestial situation, I might have taken a cue from Ecclesiastes 11:4: "Whoever looks at the clouds shall not reap." So it was, I nearly got smote -- not by Yahweh but by Yahoo! Cloud computing refers to Web-based tools and resources that supplant local applications and storage. It's called "the cloud" because of the cloud-shaped icon used to signify the Internet in network schematics.
Cloud computing lets companies avoid capital expenditure for hardware and software. Instead, they scale up or down by renting "virtual machines" as needed, connecting to them via the Internet. Cloud computing also encompasses software as a service, where users "lease" programs via the Internet -- think Google Apps or Salesforce.com -- along with the much-touted Web 2.0 -- a catchall for Internet-enabled phenomena such as social networking, blogs, wikis, Twitter, YouTube and arguably any Web venture that survived the dot-com apocalypse.
Such cloud-based services aren't new -- my e-mail has been in the cloud for five years, and twice that for my calendar. But cloud computing is big news in today's economy as companies great and small seek savings by migrating data services to the ether. For the rest of us, accessing and searching our e-mail from anywhere, coupled with near-limitless free storage, makes webmail irresistible.
No surprise, then, that Yahoo Mail's estimated 260 million users make it the largest e-mail service in the world. Add Hotmail and Gmail, and we're talking half a billion webmail users!
The silver lining for e-discovery is that all those candid, probative revelations once the exclusive province of e-mail now flood social media such as FaceBook and Twitter. But cloud computing poses e-discovery challenges of near-Biblical proportions because it's harder to access, isolate and search electronically stored information without physical dominion over the data.
Moreover, repatriation of cloud content depends on the compatibility of cloud formats with local storage formats and tools, including the ability to preserve and produce relevant metadata.
Consider the unique way Gmail threads messages into conversations. How do you replicate that structure in the processing and presentation of electronically stored information?
You can say, "We don't care about structure"; but increasingly, the arrangement of information is vital to full comprehension of the information. Such meta-information is key to a witness' ability to identify and authenticate evidence, especially when it's culled from collaborative environments such as virtual deal rooms and Microsoft's popular SharePoint products.
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By: Craig Ball