Cloud Computing in a Law Firm Environment Part I: What is Cloud Computing? Without a doubt, you are well aware that “cloud computing” is one of the most talked about buzz phrases in the world of information technology. As in the .COM world of the not so distant past, the solutions proposed as “cloud” can be like the Wild West. One of the biggest challenges we face as IT consultants is taking an abstract concept such as cloud computing or virtualization, with all of the associated hype and complexity, and delivering a solution that is practical, cost-effective, secure and reliable in a professional services environment. We will use this space over the next 3 months to answer the most common questions we are asked as we consult with our legal clients in Atlanta. So first things first: Just what is cloud computing? In its simplest form, “the cloud” refers to the delivery of computing and storage capacity “As a Service” to a community of end-recipients. Cloud computing entrusts IT service providers with end user’s data, soft ware and computation over a wide-area-network. End users access cloud based applications through a web browser or a light weight (thin) desktop or mobile app while the business soft ware and data are stored on servers at a remote location. Proponents claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand. Chances are you and your firm are already “in the cloud” if you use services like service provider or remote/off -site backup and disaster recovery systems, email security and content filters, web browser security or proxy services. If you use Gmail, YouTube, or Skype, you can begin to frame your concept of the cloud in its simplest terms: on-demand access to reliable and configurable resources that can be quickly accessed and provisioned. In a legal business environment, that definition extends to include a pay-per-use model for enabling on demand access to resources with minimal end user involvement in the management of those resources. Cloud computing can be broken down into three primary delivery models: Infrastructure as a Service (“IaaS”), Platform as a Service (“PaaS”), and Soft ware as a Service (“SaaS”). IaaS providers off er their clients access to their pool of physical resources located in large data centers. IaaS clients have virtual access to all of the physical resources found in a traditional premise-based IT infrastructure: firewalls, servers, storage, etc. In addition, IaaS providers off er Local Area Network (LAN) configurations, including IP addressing. For Wide Area Network (WAN) configurations, IaaS providers can use the internet to configure Virtual Private Networks. Under this model, with no PaaS or SaaS integration, end users are responsible for deploying and patching their own operating system and application soft ware. PaaS is a model used primarily in an application development environment, and is not applicable to our discussion. Essentially, cloud providers deliver a computing platform that includes an operating system, programming language execution environment, database, and web server. Application developers can develop and run their soft ware solutions on a cloud platform without the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware and soft ware layers. The most beneficial cloud computing opportunity for the vast majority of our small-to-medium sized law firm client base lies in the SaaS category. We have implemented cost effective solutions from Microsoft such as Hosted Exchange Server, Microsoft Office (Office 365), email/ spam filtering, document management, and data backup. The benefits of this model include fl at-fee rates (per month, per user pricing), the ability to access documents, email and other data from anywhere, and the collaborative benefits of sharing documents with co-workers, clients, and colleagues. The IT industry as a whole, as well as specifically the legal IT market is migrating quickly towards a fully “hosted cloud” environment. A hosted cloud service provider is a business that delivers a combination of traditional IT functions such as infrastructure, applications (Soft ware as a Service), security, monitoring, storage, Web development, website hosting and email, over the Internet or other wide area networks. Th is approach enables the law firm to consolidate and outsource much of their IT needs for a predictable recurring fee. With so much information to consume and digest, there is no wonder why “cloud computing” is not only the latest IT buzz, but also generates the most confusion to the end user. Integrators and service providers all across the industry spectrum are offering “cloud” solutions to address individual IT needs or the complete hosted production environment. We feel it is imperative to fully understand your business needs and what the cloud market offers before engaging any small or large scale adoption. In next month’s column look for more in-depth reviews on the PROS and CONS of cloud computing in the legal environment and some of the most common cloud or hosted implementations.. Firm Tech, Inc. is an information technology consulting firm servicing the Southeastern United States of America. Our vertical markets include legal and professional services firms, not for profit and hospitality companies. Firm Tech, Inc. builds, manages and optimizes customized, client-centric networks that are strategically tailored to meet an organization’s specific business goals and requirements. http://www.firmtechnology.net
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