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How to explain cloud computing to a lawyer

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In April 2014, IBM was entering a new era of information technology (IT). It was time to embrace the cloud, and I realized that we were going to be deeply transformed by it.

I needed to change the way I was doing my job, so I was pretty busy attending many training sessions and calls and helping other IBMers and clients to understand new strategy focus and product announcements.

So, it took me by surprise when a lawyer friend approached me saying, “I need to know what cloud computing is!”

It was at that very moment that I realized cloud computing was not only impacting the IT industry, but all industries.

(Related: How to explain private, public and hybrid cloud to your spouse)

One of her clients had called her and asked for a “cloud” agreement. Even though there was a template for her to work with, she told me that she had come to the realization that cloud services were very important for everyone (industry, clients, consumers and more) and that she would not survive the task at hand without learning and understanding what she was doing, for real. As any lawyer would have done, she went to the library to find a book, but even a book that was targeted toward lawyers assumed a technical knowledge that she did not have.

So we met a few days later and after a two-hour meeting, we had this picture on the table:

lawyers and the cloud

She brought the book she had with her, but after a quick look at it I noticed that the book started the discussion on the cloud computing delivery models like infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and business process as a service (BPaaS), as well as going over the concepts of public, private and hybrid clouds. Then it went right into legal issues around these concepts.

The problem with this approach is that many people, including lawyers, don’t understand the basics. So I figured out that I had to look for a common ground based on the shared notions everyone has around computers and try to explain the basics. Here’s what I came up with:

Infrastructure: This is your computer, but in parts. You are used to dealing with your notebook, but as the IT industry evolved, we had to put more processing power, security and intelligence in the components of a computer. In turn, we ended up having servers (where the processing happens), storage subsystems (where the data goes) and networking (to connect everything to everything). The intelligence in these components comes from their operating systems, or the layer of software that lets you run your applications, like in your smartphone.

Platform: This concept may be a little more difficult to get, but it’s similar to what happened with computers. Applications started to be so complex that we had to break them down for better performance, security and to make them easily customizable for different business. So you’ll have databases to save and process your data, application servers that know how your business works, web servers that talk with the browser on your notebooks and so on.

Software: This is the layer where your need or idea for a business solution gets implemented. A word processor, chat application or even Facebook are all applications, or software.

Virtualization: We realized that it would be really cool if we could trick applications into believing they were running on their own infrastructure for efficiency, security and flexibility—the solution was virtualization. Virtualization is sharing without necessarily knowing that you’re are sharing, like going on a bus but feeling like it’s your own Rolls-Royce.

Business process: This was an easy one. I told her, imagine you are the best taxation lawyer that there is and that you have developed a process for your company to pay less taxes. Your company will not only benefit from the cost reductions, but now with the cloud they can expose the process you developed, through web services or other APIS, and charge other companies in your sector to use it.

law and the cloudOnce we had defined these concepts and their basic interactions, it was really easy for her to understand what she had read to a deeper extent: “Your explanation was very useful because you started with the facts (infrastructure, platform, software) and I could, for the first time, understand what the cloud was, and also relate your explanations to the things that I had read before, without actually understanding them. Then we went deeper, talking about how the cloud worked and how it transformed them into services (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS), and we could even discuss a little bit about security measures.”

This experience showed me the deep impact cloud computing is having everywhere. For this lawyer, understanding cloud allowed her to communicate better with her clients and other areas within the company, all of which helped her to draft a better contract in order to protect the interests of the company, considering the risks that the cloud involves from a legal perspective.

As IT professionals, we must become facilitators by connecting known paradigms with the new cloud computing paradigm. This process will benefit us by allowing insights into areas that are being touched by cloud computing. In turn, we can help accelerate learning processes, allowing for a much better understanding of how cloud computing concepts relate to different areas of expertise and create better cloud solutions.

How are you or your business being transformed by the cloud? Please let me know with your comments below or a tweet @mRcSqZd (#TransformedxCloud).

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