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How To Avoid Complications From A Dual Environment

In a recent article, I analyzed the root-cause of challenges that are holding back adoption of eDiscovery cloud computing. IPE (Inverse Performance Equation) is one of the biggest culprits. As matters exceed a couple hundred gigs of data or so, reviewer productivity grinds down to painfully slow levels. To address this, many organizations are opting to maintain two eDiscovery environments: one in the cloud and one on-prem.

I think the dual environment approach is a mistake. In this thought piece, I’d like to outline why I believe you shouldn’t maintain both environments. I know of numerous organizations today running dual (cloud and on-prem) eDiscovery environments. If this sounds like your enterprise, I’d like to share some insights here that you might not have considered.

Who Can Benefit From These Ideas?

Organizations that are maintaining both cloud and on-prem eDiscovery environments today probably have not fully considered what I’m about to share. By my estimation, this could include:

  • eDiscovery service providers
  • Law firms
  • Corporations, government agencies and other stakeholders who manage eDiscovery in-house
  • Consultancies with a core competency in eDiscovery and investigations

How Do Organizations End Up With A Dual-Environment?

Most organizations I’ve analyzed did not set out to have two environments. Instead, this came about almost accidentally. To illustrate this point, let me describe a fairly common scenario I see playing out.

  • An organization has made a substantial investment in on-prem eDiscovery computing and it has worked just fine for many years.
  • The on-prem environment does have limitations, usually restricting reviewers to a single work environment that’s not particularly flexible. This limitation was exacerbated during the pandemic.
  • The on-prem environment requires a substantial investment in hardware, software and services to keep it optimized. Leaders were hoping the cloud would one day reduce or eliminate this expense.
  • Sometime in the last few years, leaders began to hear about the benefits of eDiscovery cloud computing: no hardware, no software, work-from-anywhere, claim the rental expense as an operating cost rather than incur a huge capital expenditure. It was all very attractive.
  • They decided to dip their toes in the water and run a few small matters in the cloud. The initial results were encouraging. The costs were reasonable and the reviewers were productive. Leaders began to wonder if they even needed on-prem any longer.
  • They kept feeding larger and larger matters into the cloud and then IPE hit. On matters with more than a couple hundred gigs or so of data, reviewer productivity plummeted while complaints and frustrations skyrocketed.
  • Leaders felt stuck. While the cloud couldn’t handle everything, it could handle a lot. So they adopted a relatively simple policy that at the time seemed cost-effective: all small matters go through the cloud and large matters go on-prem. While they would prefer to have a single environment, they really don’t see a reason to change what seems to be working today.

This is the stuck position I believe many organizations are finding themselves in. While they don’t necessarily want two eDiscovery environments, it seems tenable to keep both. Right?

What Complications Does A Dual-Environment Introduce?

If your organization has ended up with two environments and you find this to be an acceptable solution, I would wager that there are several problems you will likely run into that will cause you to regret that decision:

  1. The costs of maintaining two environments are probably much higher than you’ve accounted for yet and they could go up, by a lot.
  2. The security risks are nearly double.
  3. It can be very confusing, operationally, to know which environment to select and recommend to clients. If your recommendation doesn’t work out, client satisfaction could be impacted negatively.
  4. Given today’s cutting edge architectural options, it’s really not necessary to maintain two environments.

Before we explore these ideas, I do want to add a qualifier. Some organizations I’ve worked with have clients who don’t want their data in the cloud. Period. While I believe the cloud can be made as secure as on-prem, this sort of client-bias often cannot be overcome. The choice becomes binary. Either you review their matters on-prem or you lose their business. Today, this is the one and only completely reasonable justification I can think of to maintain two environments. This is especially true if a large portion of your revenue comes from clients with this bias. But if that is not your situation, the ideas I’m about to describe could guide you toward a much better path.

The Costs Of Maintaining Two Environments

Budgets drive a lot of decision-making in eDiscovery and rightly so. On the surface, it probably doesn’t seem all that much more expensive to maintain two environments than one. This is especially true for organizations that made substantial investments in on-prem and then added the cloud. The incremental expense for cloud licenses probably pales in comparison to the costs of the on-prem infrastructure.

But this thinking belies two considerations that really should be factored into the overall cost picture:

  • The human costs have probably been significantly underestimated.
  • At some point, you’ll need to scale the on-prem infrastructure.

I’ve noticed over the years that when organizations build budgets for eDiscovery functions, they tend to underestimate the human costs. In several businesses I’ve analyzed, members of the IT team dedicate up to half of their time, if not more, to eDiscovery. But rarely is a proportional amount of their salary accounted for in eDiscovery budgets. Usually that salary expense is carried on the books of the IT function.

This is a hidden cost that most organizations simply don’t account for. My sense is that this is probably costing you a lot more than you realize today and it will only get worse as time goes by. I say this for a few reasons. First, the skillsets required to maintain an on-prem environment are quite different than for maintaining a cloud environment. Second, as more matters get added to the cloud, the need for near full-time support for the cloud will almost certainly occur. Many of the new managed services agreements we’re putting in place are for the cloud, not just on-prem.

Third, because the maintenance requirements are so different between the two environments, it’s entirely possible that you could end up needing two dedicated teams—especially if you operate in a 24x7x365 capacity. If the human expenses for both environments are not properly calculated and attributed, your profits could really degrade and it might be a mystery as to why that’s the case.

The second cost consideration has to do with upgrades of the on-prem environment. One of the biggest expenditures we help clients plan for is something we call environment scalingThis usually means we’re upgrading storage systems, servers, SQL servers, security and even the network. Most eDiscovery environments require pretty significant upgrades about every 3-4 years. That’s the nature of the beast. If your environment was upgraded sometime in the last 1-2 years, you’re probably good to go for a while.

But if your environment hasn’t been upgraded in the last 3 years, you probably have a big decision to make soon: should we upgrade on-prem or try to move everything to the cloud? My recommendation would be that you upgrade the cloud. My last article on this topic put forward ideas that you might not have considered. The financial benefits of operating with a single environment could far outweigh the costs of this type of upgrade. But no matter what, if you haven’t calculated a future upgrade to on-prem into your budget forecast, you’re probably operating on erroneous cost projections.

The Security Risks Are Nearly Double

Cybersecurity is a constant concern for eDiscovery operators because we host some of the most valuable and sensitive ESI (electronically stored information) in the world. This is an inherent problem for dual-environment operators. No matter how you calculate it, keeping two environments secure is twice the work and twice the challenge of keeping one environment secure. This means:

  • Two networks need to be architected for a security-first posture.
  • Two networks need to be monitored in real time.
  • Two sets of logins need to be managed.

That requires twice the level of vigilance. In my experience, most eDiscovery operators struggle to practice vigilance for a single environment, let alone two.

But the biggest problem in this area probably has to do with the different security postures of the two environments. This introduces a number of operational challenges and probably even requires different disclosures to clients for the two different environments. Here’s what I mean.

If you operate an on-prem eDiscovery environment, you’re probably in control of the security policies and practices for that unique environment. Most on-prem environments are a custom build, where the technology, operations and policies are designed specifically for the needs of that environment.

But in the cloud, you’re likely subject to the practices and policies of the cloud provider. What happens when the policies and practices of your cloud environment are different from your on-prem environment? How do you monitor and enforce the policies of the two environments? How do you disclose to clients the differences between the two? That brings me to my next point.

It Can Be Very Confusing Operationally

In my estimation, one of the major reasons you don’t want two environments is because it can be very confusing operationally, especially for business development people. I see two frequently-encountered situations where confusion could produce negative consequences:

  • Estimations of reviewer productivity.
  • Engagements that start small and then scale in data sets.

Most eDiscovery practices, in my experience, set productivity targets for their reviewers. In other words, they want reviewers to consistently comb through a set number of documents per hour. The reviewer’s ability to hit those productivity benchmarks is highly dependent on the speed of the underlying infrastructure.

But how can you make this calculation when the performance characteristics are quite different between the two environments? This is especially problematic when the performance is not constant, because it’s subject to IPE—where performance degrades as data-sets increase. Think about that for a moment. If your estimates are for 750 documents to be reviewed per hour and yet your actual performance is 500 documents per hour, what do you do? How do you explain that to stakeholders? How does that impact your deadlines and your profit margins?

One of the ways I’ve seen this play out is with matters that start small and then swell. This is actually very common in eDiscovery. I’ve seen matters kick off with under 100 gigs of data, then 50 more gigs get added and then 100 more. What happens when you start off by placing the matter in the cloud, but then IPE blocks you from finishing the matter in the cloud because it won’t scale? The options I’ve seen organizations consider at that moment often include:

  • Migrate the data for the entire matter from the cloud to on-prem. This takes time and can be complicated to coordinate. Given that most eDiscovery projects operate on pretty tight timelines, this is not a very attractive option.
  • Split the matter between cloud and on-prem. This is also not a very attractive option because it often requires a new set of reviewers to quickly get up to speed on the project. It also often inhibits collaboration between reviewers who may not even be in the same location.

It’s not primarily reviewers who are impacted by these situations. Business development people, who are usually not all that familiar with the underlying technology, often struggle with two core questions:

  • Which environment do we recommend for this matter and how can I be confident it’s the right environment?
  • What do I do if reviewer productivity drops off precipitously, due to IPE, or if the matter scales beyond the performance limitations of the cloud?

I’ve seen business development people grapple with these questions and with the actual fall-out of making recommendations that don’t work out. This does not lead to confident business development people who know they can stand behind their recommendations one hundred per cent. This is not the mindset you want for your business development staff.

It’s Unnecessary

At the end of the day, my number one reason for saying you don’t need two eDiscovery environments is because it’s just not necessaryThe cloud can be made to perform at a level that is equal to or greater than on-prem. The cloud can be made scalable, where you don’t have to migrate data to on-prem in an emergency. The cloud can help you avoid that next big on-prem scaling expenditure.

If nothing else, I hope my reasoning here will give you an option to consider when the moment comes to scale on-prem. What if, instead of scaling on-prem with all of its inherent limitations, you scale your cloud environment? What might that mean for the future of your business? How might this improve your security posture? How much confidence might this give your business development staff? How much simpler might this make your operations?  

If you have questions about any of the ideas I’ve put forward here, please know that my door is open.  

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Nico Van der Beken


Former Big 4 Partner and renowned forensics expert Nico Van der Beken is a key member of our Advisory Board. Following a distinguished career assisting major law firms and corporations involved in criminal, civil, regulatory, and internal investigations as a partner at KPMG Switzerland, Nico today provides advisory services to global eDiscovery businesses. Employing his specialized knowledge in Investigations, Intelligence, Diligence, Digital Forensics, Cryptocurrency Forensics, Data Analytics, eDiscovery, and Cyber Response, Nico provides expert insights into the European market and steers strategic growth for GeorgeJon.

In an industry where knowledge is power and experience begets performance and profitability, GeorgeJon is constantly absorbing and documenting real-world solutions to proactively improve client systems. Tapping the knowledge of a 25-year industry veteran augments this knowledge base with a client-side focus and market-specific insights. A leader of Forensic Technology teams at PwC, Deloitte and KPMG, and a co-founder of the Swiss office for Stroz Friedberg, Nico aligns GeorgeJon’s proven solutions with client expectations and needs.

Nico is also the co-founder of Undecom, the first global internet search platform specifically designed to congregate investigators, forensic experts, detectives, intelligence professionals, security experts, and customers from all over the world. He holds an Executive MBA in Technology Management from the Université de Fribourg and a Master of Science in Industrial Sciences from Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen.

Amy Mejia


Amy Mejia has spent her career enhancing people operations and leading strategic HR initiatives for growing companies across a wide range of industries. She develops and evolves GeorgeJon’s HR processes and programs on a daily basis, including talent management and development, employee engagement, compensation/benefits, and much more. She is perpetually focused on helping GeorgeJon achieve ever-evolving goals by optimizing company-wide productivity and satisfaction.

Amy holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern Illinois University, a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) Certification from the HR Certification Institute, and is a Society for HR Management (SHRM) Certified Professional (CP). She is a Chicago native and mother of two young boys.

Kaya Kowalczyk


Kaya drives GeorgeJon’s marketing strategies and initiatives. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of marketing, branding, and communications to enhance the company’s visibility, attract target audiences, and support business growth. Works closely with the executive team and collaborates with cross-functional departments to achieve marketing goals and ensure alignment with the company’s overall objectives.

During Kaya’s 18 years at GeorgeJon, she has excelled at myriad technical and business roles, developing a comprehensive understanding of GJ’s operating model while implementing programs that nurture the sustainable growth and healthy maturation of the organization. 

Reynolds Broker


Reynolds is the primary advisor, spokesperson, and tactical right hand for the Executive Team (Founder, COO, CTO). As an innovative strategist, consultant, and implementer, he spearheads the successful execution of mission-critical projects and strategic initiatives across the organization, specializing in organizational alignment, business operations governance, and marketing/communications management. His diverse professional and educational experience is rooted in the technology, corporate finance, and government affairs sectors.

Reynolds holds an International MBA in Corporate Finance and Spanish from the University of South Carolina and a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the University of Georgia.

Darrin Hernandez, CPA


Darrin Hernandez is the Vice President of Finance for GeorgeJon, responsible for ensuring corporate financial vitality, including accounting strategy, cash flow, reporting, forecasting, budgeting, and legal/insurance/tax compliance. Possessing a unique background that meshes accounting & finance expertise and executive management with emerging technology initiatives, Darrin is uniquely qualified to bring stability and foresight to GeorgeJon’s financial endeavors.

Over the course of his twenty-year career in corporate finance and accounting, Darrin has established himself as an authority in tech-enabled services and SaaS businesses. Prior experience in the cyber-security, bookings management as an online marketplace, and digital transformation consulting spaces provided invaluable insights for anticipating and adjusting to the ever-changing landscape that permeates the tech industry. Being nimble, adaptable, and prepared is necessary to deliver stability for fast-growing companies, and Darrin is the man with the plan.

Darrin has a B.S. in Accounting from Northern Illinois University and is a Certified Public Accountant. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids.

Allison Jessee


Allison Jessee is the Chief Revenue Officer at GeorgeJon. With 20+ years of experience in sales, account management, and customer success, Allison has demonstrated a profound commitment to driving growth and success for both GeorgeJon and its customers. She delivers deep industry knowledge, strategic vision, and an endless passion for innovation to guide customers through the complexities of data ecosystems while future-proofing operations.

Allison’s expertise in sales automation, strategy and sales execution, and customer relationship management makes her the ideal leader to guide GeorgeJon’s revenue growth.

Formerly Vice President of Customer Success at GeorgeJon, Allison led a team of customer success managers dedicated to optimizing eDiscovery ecosystems and data management solutions for some of the world’s leading law firms and corporations. Her collaborative approach with the sales, marketing, and tech teams has been instrumental in developing and executing strategies that have increased customer retention and satisfaction.

Prior to her tenure at GeorgeJon, Allison was the Vice President of Customer Success and Account Management at UPSTACK, where she played a pivotal role in launching and scaling a cloud-based platform for IT infrastructure services. Her experience also includes serving as the Director of Client Engagement at HBR Consulting, where she managed a diverse portfolio of clients in the legal industry and delivered strategic and operational solutions for Data Center, Network, and eDiscovery Hosting.

Ryan Merholz


Ryan Merholz is the Vice President of Engineering at GeorgeJon. An experienced eDiscovery industry veteran, Ryan oversees our support, professional services, and security programs to ensure world-class customer experiences for our global client base.

Ryan’s service acumen and technical expertise was honed over 15+ years in the eDiscovery realm at Relativity, where he built and led customer support/success, program management and consulting teams. He led the transition of Relativity’s support organization to the cloud and evolved their approach to customer success management for service providers. He is also a passionate advocate for workplace inclusion, diversity and belonging.

Ryan has a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Ohio Northern University and lives in the Chicago suburbs with his family. When not working, Ryan enjoys going to the theater, trying new restaurants, and walking his dogs.

Tom Matarelli


Tom Matarelli is the Chief Sales Officer at GeorgeJon. A proven eDiscovery innovator, thought leader, and community contributor, Tom’s leadership skills, global perspective and technical expertise provide deep knowledge to our global customer base. He brings 15+ years of experience in Governance Risk Compliance and Legal Technology to the GJ Leadership Team. 

Tom has held leadership roles at multiple eDiscovery technology providers, including Relativity, Vertical Discovery / Ligl, and Reveal. Starting his career as a CPA, Tom quickly moved into forensic accounting and investigations, eventually focusing on forensic technology for eDiscovery. He migrated this knowledge base to the software market, joining Relativity to build and lead their global advisory practice. He has helped law firms and corporations adopt AI-based workflows for eDiscovery, investigations, audits, and corporate compliance.

Tom holds a BA in Accounting and Marketing from Western Illinois University and an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is active in the local community, mentoring Chicago Public School students and coaching little league baseball.

George Orr


George Orr is a transformational leader who informs and drives the day-to-day operations of GeorgeJon. Working in close partnership with George Nedwick, CEO, he strategizes and implements both daily and long-term initiatives for the business.

Orr held multiple executive roles at Relativity, leading customer teams focused on support, professional services, customer success, and the growth of the certified professional community throughout his tenure. Orr was an original member of the Relativity “go-to-market team” in 2007, and helped grow the company in revenue and employees (5-1500). Orr brings his operational expertise and understanding of the eDiscovery customer landscape to the GeorgeJon team.

When not in the office, George can usually be found at a Pearl Jam concert or taking on new adventures with his family.

George Nedwick


George Nedwick is the founder, owner, and principal architect of GeorgeJon (GJ). Under George’s leadership, the company has grown from an IT startup to an internationally acclaimed industry leader serving a global client base.

George is a world-class systems architect who has spent fifteen years perfecting a performant, scalable, modular eDiscovery framework that can be replicated and managed on a universal scale. Recognizing a deficiency in technical expertise, storage capabilities, and cost-effective oversight within the eDiscovery industry, George methodically built a team to address this challenge. This includes forging partnerships with hardware manufacturers (Dell), software providers, and leading industry software providers to develop best practice methodologies for optimized infrastructure, specifically designed to meet the demanding needs of eDiscovery users.

George has developed clients in multiple vertical markets, including multinational corporations, leading law firms, government agencies, consulting firms, and premium service providers. He has proven expertise in working with sensitive/classified data and is well versed in navigating complex international data export laws. George has also moved the firm into creation and delivery of proprietary hardware, specifically monitoring appliances that can be placed at client sites to allow for remote access and 24/7 monitoring of all infrastructure components.