There are many reasons why law firms and legal entities are looking at cloud migration, or cloud computing. For some, it’s the opportunity to gain access to the latest software and services. For others with aging in-house technology, migrating to the cloud offers the ability to dump old servers and storage and move from a capital expenditure model to a fixed monthly expense for technology needs.
Security is another big motivator—today’s ever-changing threat landscape is evident by the increasing number of data breaches that are reported, affecting even huge corporations like Home Depot, TJX, and Target. Information is the currency of the growing navy of Internet pirates, and the advanced persistent threats they create can go unnoticed for months or years.
Mobility is another big challenge—attorneys and staff want to participate in the “bring your own device”(BYOD) revolution and use their own laptops, phones, and tablets to access case and client information from home, the office, or the courtroom.
Fortunately, the right cloud provider can make these headaches disappear by offloading hardware, software, security and network maintenance and leave the firm to focus on what it does best—the practice of law.
What exactly is the cloud? Let’s look at cloud services from two dimensions: composition and tenancy.
Cloud services are usually described in three different compositions:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Where providers offer the equivalent of bare-metal hardware and network bandwidth for a flat monthly fee.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS): Composed of the virtual servers, OS, middlewar, and programming environment which enable fast application deployment.
- Software as a Service (SaaS): The most mature kind of cloud that delivers high-level applications such as ERP or CRM (think Salesforce.com) in a hosted environment where all software and services are wrapped up into a predictable monthly fee.
Tenancy describes the sharing involved. Public cloud services like Amazon EC2 or Microsoft Azure offer virtual services that run on shared infrastructure; scores of virtual servers can exist on the same physical hardware. Private clouds are just that—infrastructure that is not shared with other businesses and where you have complete control over the infrastructure. And hybrid clouds are a combination of the two, often employed to handle peaks in demand due to seasonality or growth.
What the Cloud Means
What are the pros and cons of cloud? First the good:
Usually there are no up-front fees or capital outlays. Cloud services are like any other utility with predictable monthly expenditures. Growth period? Add another user. Retiring colleagues? Simply reduce the number of subscription users or “seats” that you have on call. Scalability is simple and fast.
For the BYOD quarter, most cloud services deliver built-in support for a wide array of Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices included in the flat fee.
As for the downside, here’s a checklist for you to use when comparing cloud providers and solutions.
- Data ownership: If you don’t own your data, how can you properly safeguard it to meet regulatory and ethical guidelines? Ensure that ownership of your data survives both the business relationship with your provider as well as their existence. The SAGA collapse points to why that is critical.
- Data location: Where are your firm’s matters and client data stored? Many cloud providers replicate your files to data centers around the globe, outside US borders where our laws, jurisdictions, and governance is spotty at best.
- Service level agreement: Most cloud providers only offer a 99.9% uptime agreement, with little in the way of financial incentive to ensure that SLA is met. Look for a provider who approaches “five nines”—99.999% uptime, sometimes referred to as “dial-tone” reliability.
- Zero down, period: Look for a provider who doesn’t require hardware or software purchase and upgrades on your premises. Ensure they provide a clear quote showing per-user monthly charges and exactly what is included.
- Complete IT provider: Why should your firm have to maintain email servers and patch applications? Choose a provider who provide a complete virtual legal desktop that can be tailored to include all the applications your firm needs, practice management to accounting to productivity applications, from anywhere with an internet connection
- Device independence: What will next year’s hot mobile device be? We don’t know either. Choose a provider that supports all the popular platforms enabling access from a tablet in the courtroom, smartphone on the railroad, or laptop in the home office.
- Software agnostic IT: Why change the programs you use just because you move to the cloud? Choose a provider who will support your choices of practice management, time-tracking, accounting, collaboration and other tools and integrate them into your private legal cloud desktop.
- Security: Legal entities are an increasing target for hackers seeking information about M&A activity and the like. Ensure your provider’s data center(s) are SOC-2/SSAE-16 certified, assuring the most stringent security controls are in place to safeguard your matters and information. Again, all cloud storage should be within US borders to guarantee compliance with US laws and regulations.
- Automagic backup: Daily backups of critical matters and files should be so seamless that users don’t even know they are happening. And the restoration of a file from the backup should take seconds, not hours or days.
- Disaster recovery: What happens if disaster strikes the data center? Ensure your provider has a backup location that automatically assumes control without user action and ideally without users even noticing. Natural disaster, user error, power failure—none of these unforeseen incidents should cause a loss of data and application availability for your attorneys and other users. Of course, the secondary data centers must also be within US borders for security purposes.
These are the most critical factors when evaluating and choosing a cloud provider, but you will undoubtedly have more specific requirements for your firm. In any case, if you’ve been thinking about how your law firm currently operates, let us help you assess and explore all possible options with a Technology Readiness Assessment. Call 1-800-726-3339 or visit Abacus Law for your no-risk assessment today.