We have all heard and read about the ubiquitous Internet "cloud." But what exactly is the cloud? And what specifically does that mean for e-discovery?
The cloud is really nothing more than computer space that is accessed via the Internet. So, when someone says that they are "storing data on the cloud," all that really means is rather than storing their information on their own computer that is in their physical presence they are renting space on a computer to store their data. This storage is then available from anywhere the user can access the Internet.
Several companies have been using cloud-based solutions for several years. One of the most prominent is salesforce.com, which is an online customer relationship management (CRM) database. Instead of buying software, a computer server and an IT tech to run its CRM database internally, a company can subscribe to salesforce.com, store all of its CRM information on a password-protected database and let specific employees access the database from the road, their offices or their homes anywhere they have an Internet connection.
Google Docs uses the same concept. Instead of buying software and a computer and paying for tech help, a company can just subscribe to Google Docs, use a Web-based version of Microsoft Word and store all of its information on the cloud. This way, companies save money on software and hardware costs and they don't need to worry about having a tech person on the payroll or on call. All of that is managed by Google at a central location. If you need more space, you can just increase your monthly subscription. It's a very economical and efficient pay-as-you-go model. For this reason, a lot of companies use an enterprise version of Google's Gmail instead of buying an email server and paying for its upkeep. Indeed, the ease and cost-efficiency of cloud-based services inevitably means that the "cloud" will continue to grow.
One type of cloud application is growing particularly fast. The market for cloud storage is booming. Cloud storage is the most basic cloud application. It is literally space on a shared server that is rented to a subscriber. Companies in this business have huge, central server "farms" that store incomprehensible amounts of data for their subscribers. Users can access their data stored on these services from any location where they have an Internet connection. These services also can be accessed from many types of devices including laptop and desktop computers (operating on both Windows and Apple systems), tablets and smartphones.
Dropbox is probably the most popular form of personal cloud storage. Users can get a free account that can store 2 gigabytes to 18 gigabytes of information (depending on how many referrals the user makes). Because one gigabyte contains approximately 75,000 pages of data, that's a lot of potential documents that can be stored on a free account. Once users run out of free space, they can upgrade their accounts to 100 GB of storage ($99 per year), 200 GB of storage ($199 per year), or 500 GB of storage ($499 per year).
The number of Dropbox users continues to grow exponentially. In April 2011, 25 million users subscribed to Dropbox and saved 200 million files a day. Those numbers increased in May 2012 to 50 million users saving 500 million files a day. And, as of November 2012, Dropbox had more than 100 million registered users across the world storing more than 1 billion files a day. Dropbox's estimated value is $4 billion.
Based on Dropbox's success, several ?competitors have entered the cloud storage market. Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple ?iCloud, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive and Sugar Sync all offer cloud storage services. As such, cloud storage is booming. In 2012, there were about 500 million cloud storage subscriptions globally. By 2017, that number is likely to exceed 1.2 billion subscriptions.
Cloud Storage and E-Discovery
So what does all of this mean for litigators and trial lawyers? If you hated dealing with electronically stored information (ESI) before, cloud storage is not going to make your life easier.
As we all know, once litigation becomes reasonably foreseeable, parties are required to issue a litigation hold notice directing custodians to preserve all potentially relevant data. The notice should be sent to all custodians with potentially relevant data and information. With the increasing use of Dropbox and other cloud storage services, parties must update their litigation hold notices to include cloud storage services as a place where relevant data could be located, specifically listing Dropbox (or other cloud storage) as a possible storage site.