What Is the Cloud, and What Does It Mean for Businesses?

The cloud describes a global network of computers and servers that store and process data. Data and software in the cloud are located on physical servers — at least one, but usually more — somewhere in the world. Generally, these servers are redundant and geographically dispersed so that a catastrophe in one location can be compensated for by servers in another location.

Most ediscovery services are now cloud-based, as are social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and applications like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive. Many software applications are no longer available for local installation, as they have been replaced by cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) versions.

Data and software within the cloud can be accessed through web browsers or dedicated applications from any device with an authorized internet connection. While this means that data is accessible from practically anywhere, it also means that data could be entirely unavailable in the event of a massive power outage or other internet disruption.

The cloud provides numerous benefits for businesses. First, when properly designed, the cloud can offer an essentially infinite volume for processing and data storage. Both storage volume and processing power can be elastic and instantaneously scalable; when more capacity is needed, the system can pull from additional computers to fill the need. Cloud-based services are more reliably accessible, because systems can be continuously maintained, updated, and patched without downtime or user interruption. For end-users, cloud computing is maintenance-free and relatively disaster-proof.

Upfront costs are lower with cloud-based storage and software. Businesses don’t have to buy expensive hardware, nor do they need dedicated physical space to operate that equipment or an IT staff to run and maintain it. Costs are generally scaled based on use, so users don’t have to pay for more capacity than what they need, or commit to buying physical equipment that often results in too much (or too little) capacity.

Cloud-based applications make collaboration easy, as authorized users from anywhere in the world can access and modify data. However, businesses should take steps to ensure that employees comply with protocols for file and information storage; otherwise, data can be dispersed across numerous physical and cloud-based silos and can be difficult to locate and access.

While data security is a common concern about cloud storage, most cloud-based systems have better security measures than their on-site equivalents. Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) have greater resources to invest in security measures and dedicated security staff. While no system is foolproof, well-chosen cloud storage and SaaS providers should provide excellent physical and logical security.

One reasonable concern about cloud computing relates to data control and ownership. Companies entering into cloud-computing agreements should verify who owns their data, who can access it, and what happens to their data if the hosting company or provider ceases its operations. This is especially important in ediscovery, when electronically stored information (ESI) must be preserved and eventually collected for litigation.

Overall, the cloud offers tremendous benefits, with few drawbacks, for most businesses in terms of data storage and application hosting.

Glossary definition

The cloud is a global network of computers and servers that store and process data. Data within the cloud is available on any device with an authorized internet connection.