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Legal Cloud targets law firms, promises security, compliance

New venture Legal Cloud says that it can span the chasm between security and regulatory needs and cost-effective cloud computing for legal enterprise- a tall order. Can they prove themselves secure and robust to legal IT eagles?

The Legal Cloud has announced the beta release of its new cloud service. Using Rackspace's data centers to offer what it claims is a secure and cost-effective version of cloud computing, the Legal Cloud is attempting to address enterprises' primary concern about using cloud technology and cash in on cheap and extensible computing power.

Still in its infancy, Legal Cloud is being tested by a few firms. David Sheetz, director of technology at Townsend, Townsend and Crew LLP in San Francisco says their involvement goes as deep as one test bed Exchange server. "It's pie-in-the-sky at this point," Sheetz said, "We haven't done anything with it yet" beyond the one server instance. He says it's an attractive proposal, but he will reserve judgment until the Legal Cloud shows that it can go further than the conceptual phase.

Sheetz is optimistic about the potential for savings if the fledgling network can prove itself, and that his firm might use it primarily for new IT projects and emergency provisioning.

Traditionally very conservative when it comes to new technology and bound by strict laws and regulation governing data retention and availability, law firms seem like the last candidate that would embrace the cloud. But founders Mark Hadfield and Kent Langley are sure they have the right recipe for the skeptical customer. The Legal Cloud has reserved space in Rackspace datacenters in various locations and fenced them off to create a private cloud for its customers.

Hadfield and Langley were unwilling to say how much capacity they currently have online, but feel confident they can meet demand. In addition to being a new, industry-specific VAR in the cloud, Legal Cloud may represent a new model for startups of very low cost investment, since they need practically no capital investment to offer computing services and can rent more space from Rackspace or other infrastructure providers on demand.

Security a problem for many users

Exclusivity and transparency are the security model, says CTO Langley who brings cloud experience as a former employee at Joyent, "The Legal Cloud is not the public cloud," he explained, saying that they guarantee that their networks are separated from the public internet and that networked resources and storage are carefully managed to ensure each customer's data and platforms are not intermingled. They comfort customers by flinging wide the doors and offering "complete transparency", for firms adding that customers can look at every detail of their installation on Legal Cloud and perform traditional audits.

Legal Cloud is selling the appearance of turning resources on their cloud into a node on a customer's network. Langley says that Legal Cloud offers direct network access in some areas and a "VPN overlay" that most customers will use. Legal Cloud is Microsoft-centric but Langley adds that virtualization allows them to offer almost any server or networking flavor a client uses.

They have also planned for potential new clients where Rackspace doesn't have computers; they'll come and install a node for you, if you've got the scratch. "We had two (inquiries) last week that were not on our roadmap", said Langley. Legal Cloud will help a client make the appropriate investment in hardware to connect to the service. "It's really down to how much time and money they've got," said CEO Mark Hadfield. The physical location of legal documents and records is often mandated by law in each country.

Hadfield helped develop electronic document tracking and comparison software called Workshare DeltaView, widely used in the legal industry. Hadfield says that the industry spends about $250 million a year on IT, often building 100% duplicate networks in case of disaster. He touts savings on investment and the flexibility of on-demand computing resources as reasons to use Legal Cloud. "The obvious challenge is to get clients comfortable" with outsourcing compute and data resources, he said. Hadfield adds that he wants to capitalize on a trend in data center investment, saying that "You'll find they're building the same types of facilities" that Legal Cloud is offering to rent.

Hadfield became aware of the potential for cloud VARs after talking to salespeople for the big public cloud providers. "They really didn't have any idea about industry-specific requirements," he said. Hadfield noticed there was a gap between the needs of enterprise and adaptive cloud technologies and took the plunge in creating a customized cloud for an industry with clearly defined security needs.

Hadfield said they expect the beta to last about 3 months and they are not seeking capital at this point.

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