Virtualization and subsequent implementation of enterprise-class cloud computing solutions have most visibly transformed IT department approaches to storage and infrastructure management. However, changes may have been more significant in terms of services, such as application deployment and ecommerce management, which departments have been able to migrate from their legacy systems. While security is still a sticking point for many would-be cloud adopters, IaaS and similar services have already conferred many benefits even to regulated industries like law.

Private clouds are a natural fit for organizations that previously supported IT operations with mainframes, but which now seek additional scalability and more efficient cost management. Ars Technica contributor Lee Hutchinson recently likened private clouds to well-managed abstractions of IT services, meaning that they relieve some of the traditional pressures around hardware procurement and server management while still providing administrators with adequate control and reliable performance. IaaS clouds also empower companies to downsize their data centers and postpone new PC and server purchases without negatively impacting operations.

"You don't need a giant data center to offer giant data center-scale user storage, or giant data center-scale application hosting, or giant data center-scale data warehousing," wrote Hutchinson. "Removing the physical infrastructure component from doing business is a huge boon to companies, and it also helps demand, too."

Lawyers keen to reap cloud computing benefits
Even the heavily regulated legal industry appears set to invest in the cloud. Cloud company itopia recently published a white paper arguing that lawyers, with the blessing of state governments, are increasingly turning to virtualization and cloud implementations in order to process client information.

"The only thing stopping lawyers from using the cloud is their own personal mistrust," wrote the paper's authors. "State ethics rules allow it and no lawyer can match the level of data security guaranteed by cloud services. The only caveat is that lawyers must take reasonable precautions to protect confidential client information just like they must do with any technology they employ in their practice."

In addition to the cloud's growing acceptance as a repository and channel for sensitive, regulated data, it also enables lawyers to be more mobile and better manage their IT expenses.

"Working in the cloud gives attorneys a safer way to store confidential client information, and it enables them to access information from the office to the airport to the courthouse," said itopia CEO Jonathan Lieberman. "It's clearly the wave of the future for attorneys because the cloud is more secure, easily scalable and more cost-effective."