7 September, 2023


What is a Virtual Data Room?
Key Differences Between Physical Data Rooms and Virtual Data Rooms
Enhanced Security Features of Virtual Data Rooms
Data Encryption and Protection Measures
Ensuring Data Privacy and Confidentiality
Best Practices for Organizing Folders and Files in a VDR
How VDRs Accelerate M&A Due Diligence
A Comparison of Popular VDR Providers
Real-life Examples of Successful VDR Implementations

In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, the way businesses manage and share sensitive information has undergone a substantial transformation. As physical data rooms increasingly go the way of the dinosaurs a Virtual Data Rooms (VDR) has emerged as a vital tool for securely storing, managing, and sharing confidential documents and data during various critical business processes such as mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, fundraising, and legal transactions.

This comprehensive guide aims to provide a thorough understanding of Virtual Data Rooms, their benefits, features, and best practices for implementation.

What is a Virtual Data Room?

A Virtual Data Room (VDR) is a cloud-based repository of documents and data that is used for securely storing, sharing, and managing sensitive information during various business transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, due diligence processes, fundraising rounds, financial audits, legal proceedings, and more.

VDRs have gained popularity due to the advantages they offer over traditional physical data rooms, which involve storing and sharing paper documents in a physical location. Virtual Data Rooms offer a modern and efficient solution for managing complex business transactions and maintaining data security and confidentiality.

Key Differences Between Physical Data Rooms and Virtual Data Rooms

Physical data rooms and virtual data rooms (VDRs) are both used for secure document storage and sharing, particularly in contexts like mergers and acquisitions, due diligence processes, legal transactions, and sensitive business dealings. However, they have significant differences in terms of their nature, accessibility, security, and convenience. Here are some of the key differences between the two:


Physical Data Rooms: These are physical, brick-and-mortar spaces where documents and files are stored (often a secure conference room within the target company's facilities). They require the physical presence of individuals from the acquiring company to access and review documents. These rooms are typically equipped with security measures like locks, surveillance cameras, the presence of a lawyer, and restricted access to ensure confidentiality.

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs): VDRs are cloud-based digital platforms where electronic versions of documents are organized and stored. They provide a secure online environment for users to access, share, and collaborate on documents from anywhere with an internet connection.


Physical Data Rooms: Access to physical data rooms requires individuals to be present at a specific location. This can be a limitation, especially when dealing with parties located in different geographic regions.

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs): VDRs offer remote access, allowing authorized parties to access documents and collaborate from anywhere in the world, 24/7. This is particularly advantageous for international transactions or when multiple parties need to review documents simultaneously.


Physical Data Rooms: Physical data rooms rely on physical security measures, such as locked doors, security personnel, surveillance cameras, or the presence of a lawyer. While these measures can be effective, they can also be vulnerable to breaches or unauthorized access.

virtual data room complete guide

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs): VDRs offer advanced digital security features, such as encryption, access controls, two-factor authentication, watermarks, and activity tracking. These features provide a higher level of security and control over who can access, view, and manipulate documents.

Cost and Convenience

Physical Data Rooms: Setting up and maintaining physical data rooms can be costly due to rent, security personnel, infrastructure, and logistical considerations. They also require more time and effort to manage and organize documents physically.

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs): While VDRs involve a subscription or usage fee, they are generally more cost-effective than physical data rooms due to the elimination of physical infrastructure costs. They also offer greater convenience in terms of document organization, searchability, and ease of use.

Get Pricing

Document Management and Collaboration

Physical Data Rooms: Document management in physical data rooms can be time-consuming and less efficient. Documents can be difficult to find and organize and may be limited to review within the physical data room. Collaboration among parties may be hindered by the need for physical presence.

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs): VDRs provide efficient document organization, indexing, and advanced search capabilities. They also enable real-time collaboration among authorized users, allowing them to comment, annotate, and communicate within the platform.

Enhanced Security Features of Virtual Data Rooms

Virtual data rooms offer advanced security features that go beyond traditional file-sharing methods, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical information. Some security features include:

virtual data room guide

  • Remote Shredding: The ability for an administrator to revoke a user's rights to view a document, even after it's been downloaded
  • Granular Access Controls: Administrators can customize document security policies on a granular level, including per user, per group, per document, per folder, and more
  • Secure Printing: Admins can prevent a document to be printed to PDF, even if they've allowed the user to print out the document
  • Dynamic Watermarking: Watermarks can be applied across every page of a document with dynamic information, such as a user's name, email address, IP address, and the date and time, providing a powerful deterrent for unauthorized distribution.
  • Expiration Date and Time: This feature allows administrators to enforce deadlines by designating a date/time when documents can no longer be opened
  • Disable Print, Save, Copy/Paste and Screenshots: Based on the sensitivity of a document, administrators can granularly define the appropriate levels of protection for each document.

Data Encryption and Protection Measures

Modern VDRs prioritize data encryption to ensure that information remains secure both in transit and at rest. This means that any data transferred to or stored within the VDR is encrypted using robust encryption protocols, rendering it unreadable to unauthorized parties. Encryption guarantees that even if a breach were to occur, the stolen data would remain inaccessible without the encryption keys.

virtual data room

AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is today’s encryption standard. It is unparalleled in the amount of security and protection it offers. This advanced encryption standard is used by the National Security Agency (NSA) along with multiple industries, including online banking.

Ensuring Data Privacy and Confidentiality

Data privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have made encryption a necessity for handling personal and sensitive information. VDRs comply with these regulations by employing encryption standards and implementing features that grant control over data access and sharing permissions, ensuring that only authorized individuals can view, edit, or download sensitive documents.

Best Practices for Organizing Folders and Files in a VDR

The effectiveness of a VDR is heavily reliant on how well the documents and folders within it are organized. A well-organized VDR ensures efficient navigation, easy retrieval of information, and enhanced collaboration. When organizing documents and folders in a virtual data room, consider the following:

  • Plan Your Folder Structure
    Before uploading any documents to your VDR, take the time to plan a well-thought-out folder structure. Consider the specific needs of your project or business and how users will interact with the documents.
  • Use Descriptive and Consistent Naming Conventions
    Effective naming conventions play a crucial role in document organization. Use descriptive and consistent file names that provide a clear idea of the document's content.
  • Implement Version Control
    In a collaborative environment, documents often go through multiple revisions. Version control is essential to avoid confusion and ensure everyone has access to the most up-to-date information.
  • Utilize Metadata and Tags
    Metadata and tags provide additional context to documents, making it easier to search and filter content. Assign relevant metadata such as document type, author, date, and project to each document.
  • Set Access Permissions
    Ensure that appropriate access permissions are designated for each folder and document. Limit access to sensitive information to authorized individuals only by employing role-based permissions so that different users only have access to the information relevant to their roles.
  • Regularly Review and Update
    As your project or business evolves, the content within your VDR will also change. Periodically review the folder structure, document names, and access permissions. Remove outdated documents or folders that are no longer relevant to keep the VDR organized and efficient and update permissions as users' roles evolve.
  • Provide Clear Instructions
    Even with a well-organized VDR, users may still require guidance on how to navigate and interact with the documents. Include clear instructions or a user guide that explains the folder structure, naming conventions, and any other specific guidelines for using the VDR effectively.
  • Train Users
    Educate users on the proper use of the VDR to ensure consistency in document organization. Provide training sessions or resources that demonstrate how to upload, categorize, and retrieve documents.

How VDRs Accelerate M&A Due Diligence

Traditionally, due diligence has been a time-consuming and resource-intensive endeavor that can take months or even years to complete. In general, extended due diligence timelines are not in the interest of either M&A party. The longer the due diligence process stretches out, the more likely the deal will experience price adjustments, or fail completely. Virtual data rooms have revolutionized the M&A landscape by streamlining due diligence processes and significantly accelerating timelines.

virtual data room due diligence

Instant Access: VDRs allow authorized parties to access documents 24/7 from anywhere with an internet connection, eliminating geographical barriers and enabling global collaboration.

Enhanced Security: Advanced encryption, multi-factor authentication, and customizable permissioning ensure the highest level of security for sensitive data, reducing the risk of breaches and unauthorized access which can delay deals and cost millions. Modern virtual data rooms offer multiple layers of document security so team members can focus on the details of the deal, not on the inherent risks of sharing sensitive information with third parties.

Efficient Document Management: VDRs enable easy uploading, organizing, and indexing of documents, ensuring all parties have access to the latest versions. This minimizes confusion and errors resulting from version disparities and speeds the due diligence process.

Favorites:Marking a file or folder with a star makes it a favorite. This can be a real time saver for end users, who can mark folders and documents that are of interest to them, and then filter to show only the files and folders that they want to return to quickly.

Infinite Scrolling: Data rooms equipped with infinite scrolling enable users to rapidly scroll through documents to get familiar with the contents of the data room. This accelerates the document review process by vastly reducing the amount of clicking required to browse through the VDRs’ content.

Zoomable Thumbnails: A VDR equipped with a zoomable thumbnails feature provides users with an instant way to take a quick peek at the first page of a document. Next to each document in the VDR, a "thumbnail", or miniature image of the document, is displayed, showing the first page. Moving your mouse over the thumbnail instantly shows a zoomed-in magnification of the page. This gives the user an added ability to rapidly get familiar with documents without taking the time to click-through into the documents.

Organizing and Reordering Folders and Files: When organizing content for review by third parties, administrators will want to have control over the hierarchical order. With a virtual data room, admins can sort content alphanumerically, by date, or can even customize the order using drag-and-drop. The auto-numbering automatically updates when the order is changed, putting admins in control over exactly how the data room’s content is organized.

Smart Filters: To expedite locating specific documents in the data room, users can instantly filter files based on a variety of filtering criteria:

  • Recent — Only display documents that were published since the last login, or in the last day, week, month or quarter
  • Read / Unread — Only display documents that have been read, or that have not yet been read
  • Published By — Only display documents that have been published by a specific user or group
  • File type — Only display documents of specific file type(s) (such as xlsx, docx, pdf, etc.)
  • Viewable By — Only display documents that are permissioned for viewing by specific user(s) or group(s)
  • Viewed By — Only display documents have been viewed by specific user(s) or group(s)

Streamlined Communication: Integrated communication tools within VDRs facilitate real-time discussions, eliminating the need for separate email threads or physical meetings which can expose documents to vulnerabilities.

Auditing and Tracking: VDRs offer audit trails that track document access and actions taken by users, providing transparency and accountability throughout the due diligence process. Some virtual data rooms provide a comprehensive audit trail which includes every user login, agreement click through, video watched or document viewed, printed or downloaded, with comprehensive specificity. Administrators can trace the chronology of activities by user and gain insights into their interest level and what they care about, as well as ensure regulatory compliance.

Accelerated Decision-Making: The ease of accessing information and collaborating on a centralized platform in real time expedites decision-making processes, helping buyers or investors reach conclusions faster.

Customizable Workflows: VDRs can be tailored to match the specific needs of each deal, ensuring a smoother and more efficient due diligence process. Many VDRs have features that can facilitate task management and workflows These workflow features can simplify collaboration in a variety of ways:

  • Shorten the review cycle
  • Protect against theft and the tampering of documents
  • Safeguard intellectual property (IP)
  • Reduce regulatory compliance exposure
  • Clearly define user roles and responsibilities

When choosing a virtual data room for your secure document storing needs, it’s important to remember that not all data rooms are created equal. Some data rooms, like Intralinks, Merrill Datasite, and RR Donnelley (DFIN) Venue, are legacy virtual data rooms based on dated technology. For the data room project team, this means a clunky user experience, with limited functionality and a loss in time and productivity. Legacy VDRs are also expensive, using dated pricing models that pile on costs for the number of users and usage overages.

For a detailed feature comparison of today’s most popular data rooms, click here.

Get a free trial

Real-life Examples of Successful VDR Implementations

  • Pharmaceutical Industry: Pfizer and AstraZeneca Collaboration
    The pharmaceutical industry is no stranger to the importance of secure data management, especially when it comes to drug development and clinical trials. In one notable example, Pfizer and AstraZeneca utilized a VDR to facilitate their collaboration in the fight against COVID-19. virtual data room examples The two companies shared critical information related to vaccine development, clinical trial data, and manufacturing processes within a secure VDR environment. This enabled them to maintain confidentiality while still collaborating effectively in a time-sensitive manner.
  • Legal Sector: DLA Piper's Cross-Border Transactions
    Law firms often handle vast amounts of confidential information on behalf of their clients. DLA Piper, a global law firm, utilized VDRs to streamline cross-border transactions for their clients. By utilizing VDRs, DLA Piper was able to provide their clients with a secure platform to share due diligence materials, legal documents, and other sensitive information across different jurisdictions. This significantly sped up the due diligence process and improved collaboration between legal teams and clients.
  • Financial Services: Goldman Sachs' Mergers and Acquisitions
    In the world of investment banking, mergers and acquisitions involve intricate negotiations and the exchange of sensitive financial information. Goldman Sachs routinely utilizes VDRs to manage and share confidential documents during such transactions. The secure VDR environment allows the investment bank to control access to financial statements, legal agreements, and other proprietary data, ensuring that only authorized parties can review and analyze sensitive information.
  • Real Estate: CBRE's Property Transactions
    Real estate transactions require the exchange of extensive documentation, including property appraisals, legal contracts, and financial records. CBRE, a global real estate services and investment firm, integrated VDRs into their workflow to manage property transactions efficiently. By digitizing document sharing and storage, CBRE improved transparency between buyers, sellers, and other stakeholders, while still safeguarding sensitive data.
  • Energy Sector: Chevron's Project Collaboration
    For energy companies working on complex projects involving multiple stakeholders, secure data sharing is paramount. Chevron, a multinational energy corporation, successfully employed VDRs to streamline collaboration on various projects. These projects often involve confidential engineering plans, financial models, and regulatory documents. The VDRs allowed Chevron to grant controlled access to relevant parties, facilitating efficient decision-making without compromising data security.
  • Technology Industry: Intel's Intellectual Property Protection
    Intellectual property (IP) is a valuable asset in the technology sector. Protecting IP during collaborations and partnerships is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge. Intel utilized VDRs to safeguard their sensitive IP information while collaborating with partners and clients. By controlling access and monitoring document activity, Intel could ensure that their proprietary information remained secure throughout the collaborative process.


Virtual Data Rooms are widely used in various industries where secure sharing and management of sensitive information are crucial. They offer a modern and efficient solution for managing complex business transactions and maintaining data security and confidentiality.

ShareVault has been providing companies of all types and sizes with secure document sharing solutions for over 15 years.

Get a demo