ESI Storage Blues

If you're like me, when I run out of space in my house, I sort through things, toss them out, give them away or hold a rummage sale. Even then I end up with items that not even Goodwill will accept-- in the trash they go. Unfortunately, you can't do that with your client's or your own corporate data.

So what to do when you run out of storage for the all important bits and bytes? Two options: buy more storage or rent disk space. Sounds simple enough but both of which can have a significant impact on e-discovery data management and retrieval. I will briefly examine both options.

Purchasing more servers or storage peripherals spells ownership but it also has a hardware depreciation and upgrade element to consider. It also means more upkeep that might even require more staffing to maintain the systems. In cost accounting lingo, it is described as the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). The goal is to decrease TCO, not increase it.

However, this might be the only viable avenue to store data if your client insists on absolute security and confidentiality, despite the fact this might only provide a perception that the data is more safe and secure than being stored somewhere else. No one wants to admit the fact that neither security nor confidentiality can be guaranteed in today's hacker and virus-proned environments. There's simply no absolutes in the IT world.

On the other hand, renting disk space translates into paying someone to be the custodian of your data. This is an increasingly attractive proposition due to the growing terabytes or even petabytes of electronically stored information (ESI) that can overburden internal IT infrastructures. Data organization and ease of retrieval should be one of the key criteria to consider before engaging a vendor to take on this critical task.

The advantage of using a third-party vendor is that there's minimal costs or overhead associated with hardware, software maintenance or potential staffing issues. Since these vendors specialize in storage, they also tend to be very efficient at it. Regardless, hiring a vendor to handle your data is not as easy as it may sound. Before signing the service agreement on the dotted line, consider the following factors:

  • Hardware - Does the vendor's system integrate well with your IT infrastructure? It is critical that the vendor system "talks" to your internal document management system (DMS), your email servers and Intranet portal storage elements such as Microsoft SharePoint. All of which involve SQL databases to a great extent.
  • Searching - How receptive is the vendor's system when it comes to "data-on-demand"? Is the storage system fully searchable and in what manner? How fast can data be retrieved and produced? How is the data being indexed, migrated or archived in the vendor's system. All of which affect your company's ability to comply with e-discovery requests pertaining to F.R.C.P. Rule 26(f) and/or court subpoenas.
  • Administration - Does the vendor's system impose a shift on how you manage your data internally? If so, how easily can your organization and/or vendor adapt to this new paradigm. Do you need adjustments to your IT framework in order to make full use of the vendor's system? Inadequate planning can easily turn "Plug-and-Play" into "Plug-and-Pray."
  • Leverage - Does outsourcing data storage provide a better solution than insourcing? In this down economy, IT budgets are closely scrutinized and a misstep can spell a million dollar disaster (think cost effectiveness and client buy-in). In addition, outsourcing data storage potentially provides a justification in passing some of the costs to clients. At the minimum, your expenditure can show up on the client's invoice as a line item even your company might decide to write it off for the client's benefit-- Seeing is believing.
  • Collaboration - How well can the vendor's system work with other multi-platform systems that your e-discovery team potentially encounter. The more compatible the vendor, the higher chance of success. Industry standard is king or queen.
  • Continuity - Do you have a plan B (or C) if the vendor goes out of business (especially without notice)? How functional is your business without vendor support? What about your vendor's business partners? Can they provide support when the parent has gone fishing?

All of these are not easy questions to answer. However, with adequate planning, some, if not all, of the risks mentioned above can be minimized. If you abide by productivity expert Denis Waitley's  motto of "Expect the best but plan for the worst," at least you can say you have done your best when things go wrong. And they will.