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Moving to the CloudTalk of “moving to the Cloud” has permeated legal technology discussions for the past few years. Proponents and opponents of Cloud computing give voice to their concerns – sometimes passionately – around a range of issues regarding such a move away from on-premise hardware and software.

What many of these discussions fail to take into account is that, in fact, there  is no single, all-embracing entity called “the Cloud”. In what I would characterize as an unfortunate instance of “techno-anthropomorphism”, the term “Cloud” has confused “entity” with “location”. Try substituting “hard drive” or “file server” for “Cloud” in any of these discussions, and it should be readily apparent that “Cloud” represents a storage location for applications, data, or both, and not a distinct and separate entity.

Having said all that, it is useful to classify the different types of Cloud computing approaches into discrete categories, both to better understand what each approach offers and to evaluate each category according to specific needs, budgets, and personal preferences. One size most certainly does not fit all.

The most basic form of Cloud computing is the Data Storage model. In this approach applications are run locally, and are used to access data stored remotely in a Cloud “storage container”. Document and email storage is the most common usage for this model. Anyone using a hosted MS Exchange account with a connection to Outlook on their desktop is using this approach. Dropbox document storage is another common example of this Cloud model.

When an application specifically designed to operate in the Cloud is purchased, the user is adopting the “Software-as-a-Service” (SaaS) model of Cloud computing. In this scenario the software vendor has created an application, loaded it on their internal server(s), and then makes access to the application and the data it creates available to users who “subscribe” to that vendor’s “service”. There is nothing to install, since the vendor “owns” both the application and the hardware where it resides. There is also little or no connectivity to other apps that reside on the user’s own computer, and no software maintenance tasks required of the subscriber. All of that is covered in the monthly or annual subscription fee. Clio, TimeSolv, CosmoLex, and Centerbase are popular examples of this Cloud computing model.

A third model of Cloud computing is the “Hosting Service” approach. Your current on-premise apps are moved to a remote server, managed by hosting company. This model, which has many subvariants and nuances, replaces your office serve with a computer that is owned and maintained by a hosting provider, and is accessed via an internet connection from any computer anywhere with the proper credentials and an Internet connection. You purchase and license the apps running on that hosted computer, and the hosting company will typically install them for you on their equipment. Most hosting providers offer only limited support, at best, for apps not “officially” supported by that hosting service, and in many cases will carefully restrict the support available from them for apps that are “officially” supported. As with the SaaS model, access is purchased by a monthly or annual subscription fee, charged per user that needs access the remote computer. Popular hosting services in use at many law firms are Uptime Legal, ProCirrus, and AirDesk Solutions.

A fourth, more complicated but more flexible, model is the purchase of computing space on a Cloud server that you configure and maintain yourself. Unlike the Hosting model, in this approach to Cloud storage you are responsible for managing the server, installing applications, maintaining the connectivity and the data stored, and virtually everything else you would otherwise be required to do if the server were in your office. Cloud server “rentals” can be highly scalable in both storage and performance parameters, can be configured to meet specific user requirements, can have features turned on and off “on the fly”, and are typically charged to the user based on “usage”, measured in a variety of ways. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are the two most popular examples of this model.

So, one Cloud does not fit all. While there are a few common denominators (speed and reliability of Internet access being a prime consideration), the choice of a Cloud approach to computing is not an easy one, with many factors to consider. At its core, a move to a Cloud-based computing platform is a decision to transfer responsibility for IT functions and business-critical software applications, or both, to a different model of service than the one that has been in place for the past 15 to 20 years. Done strategically, it can reap significant financial and productivity benefits. Done poorly or without careful planning, it can bring a business to its knees.

Related Articles:
Moving to the Cloud? Make Sure It’s the Right One 
Virtualizing Law Office Systems
Connecting the Clouds

Need help thinking through the various options available? Crosspointe works with both on-premise and Cloud hosted applications, and can help you decide on a “best practice” approach for your business. Call us at 877-357-0555 or email us at [email protected] to explore your options.