IT pundits across the globe are saying the cloud has arrived, the debate about security is over & 2015 is the year of the cloud.
Since the calendar flicked over to 1st of January a few weeks ago we have seen headline after headline predicting that 2015 will be the year of the cloud. If you google it you will see similar headlines in Forbes, Information Age and IT Business Edge to name just a few. Having had at least 50 years to perfect cloud computing, I think we can safely say it is now a viable option for the legal profession suitable for law firms of all sizes.
Cloud computing in a number of guises can be traced back to the sixties. Some experts attribute the cloud concept to American computer scientist and psychologist, JCR Licklider who in 1969 described his vision of an ‘intergalactic computer network’ where everyone on the planet would be interconnected, accessing data and programs from anywhere. Others say it was Scientist John Mcarthy who proposed the idea of computerisation as a public utility, similar to the popular service bureaus, which also date back to the sixties.
Both certainly ring true in terms of what cloud computing means to us today and both continued to evolve over many years. Important cloud computing milestones to follow were the likes of salesforce.com who pioneered deploying sales tools via a simple website in 1999, then Amazon Web Services which were first seen in 2002 followed by the ‘killer apps’ that emerged from the likes of Microsoft and Google from around 2009. All have played their part in bringing us to where we are today.
The UK Legal Industry
The UK legal industry’s adoption of cloud computing has been slower than most other professions. Not surprising. A law firm must consider data security and client confidentiality far more carefully than most other businesses, simply due to the sensitive nature of their work.
Smaller law firms have certainly led the way with the adoption of cloud computing, quickly taking advantage of its many cost saving benefits. Whilst for the larger more established firms that had already invested significantly in their own IT infrastructure the pressure was on to stick with their on-premise set up in order to realise some ROI (return on investment).
However, we are now seeing larger firms start to make the move.
A recent survey published by LSN (Legal Support Network) reported that of the top 100 UK law firms 72% said they are thinking seriously about migrating their significant systems to the cloud in the next two years. Their survey is based on responses from 46 people, representing 38 top 100 law firms. The spread across the 100 was good, and they only processed responses from those in management positions and above.
Many law firms have hesitated to migrate their “crown jewels” to the cloud. But legal software and service vendors have worked hard to develop robust security capabilities for their cloud solutions and many law firms are finding that their worries about security no longer seem insurmountable. In fact the principles of good data security apply to both on-premise installations as well as cloud systems .
Backing up a firm’s data is a huge responsibility. With an on-premise infrastructure this usually falls upon someone within the Practice. Firms need a procedure in place to ensure a data backup is taken and checked daily and they must consider the ability to restore files easily when required. The person responsible must have a deputy standing by to take care of this important task when they are away or ill, and the daily backup must be taken off site in case of a fire or flood etc. All these things are normally managed for you when you use a cloud based solution.
Some law firms feel more in control if they are in charge of backing up and checking their own data. Others will feel happier delegating their back up responsibilities to a trusted technology partner. Your legal software supplier ought to be able to discuss with you and demonstrate to you the recommended standards for ISO certified data centres, safe harbour locations and military grade encryption security.
Security was not the only barrier to the adoption of cloud computing for law firms. The maturing of virtualisation technology has paved the way to cloud computing for law firms too.
In computing, virtualisation refers to the creation of a ‘virtual’ rather than an ‘actual’ version of something, e.g. a virtual computer hardware platform, operating system or computer network. Partitioning a single server to appear as multiple servers is increasingly common. Virtualization unlocks traditional one-to-one architecture separating the operating system and applications from your physical hardware, enabling a much simpler and more efficient server environment. You can have multiple virtual machines running on a single server.
This is an important enabler for cloud computing as it provides added resilience, significant scope for growth as well as improved utilisation of a firm’s server capacity.
A Viable Option For Law Firms
For the legal profession once Partners of law firms have seen evidence proving that their security fears have been resolved, it soon becomes very clear that cloud computing can enable a Practice of law to expand its infrastructure, add capacity on demand resulting in greater flexibility, a wider choice of computing resources and cost savings.
Experts seem to agree that cloud computing will ultimately transform today’s computing landscape and bring enormous benefits for all types of business. However, the bottom line for Partners is that they will need to continue to manage their internal computing environments, whilst learning how to secure, manage and monitor the growing range of external resources residing in the cloud. To achieve this they must choose their IT Partner very carefully.