You've been told your law firm’s servers are approaching “end of life” (EOL), and you have to upgrade before warranties expire and the manufacturer withdraws support.
Once your system goes EOL, components will begin to break down and operation becomes risky. Your firm will begin experiencing interruptions that impede client service and increasingly demand your attention.
You have two primary options: replace your onsite system or move your firm to the cloud.
Option 1: Replacing Your Onsite IT
For a long time, onsite IT was the only viable option for law firms – servers, software and equipment were housed at the office and managed by in-house IT staff or outsourced to a service provider. Today, many firms continue to operate with onsite IT because it’s familiar and it feels safe.
The minimal IT requirements for a mid-sized law firm include servers, data storage devices, a backup infrastructure with offsite data replication, network equipment, applications software, desktop computers and printers.
Onsite equipment requires a large, upfront capital expenditure of at least tens of thousands of dollars. This investment will cover four to five years’ use of equipment before your system once again goes EOL.
Many mid-sized firms employ an onsite IT professional to provide user support while a third-party IT provider manages the system. During an upgrade, firms will often purchase their equipment on recommendation from the IT provider to ensure they’re familiar with the system and able to manage it effectively.
However, a system that works for your provider may not be the best choice for your firm, particularly if the provider doesn’t appreciate that law firms have unique needs. For example, a provider with limited law firm experience won’t know that litigation firms require large amounts of storage for evidentiary documents and an underlying infrastructure that has enough power to scan, index and backup large quantities of documents. Without this, a litigation firm’s system and applications may perform poorly and cause constant interruptions to firm operations.
With onsite IT, firm partners feel reassured knowing where their data is at all times, and that they can control how it’s handled and by whom. However, this perception of complete data control is rarely the reality: in order to keep storage costs down and to provide a secure backup infrastructure, IT providers will often replicate the firm’s data to a secondary site. And, if your firm uses web-based tools or software, your data is already being copied to a third-party server, located in an unknown jurisdiction and handled by unknown parties.
The only way to achieve complete data and system control is to manage everything in-house, and that’s a tall order. Onsite security planning and maintenance is complex and can be very difficult for a firm to achieve on their own. A secure system requires regular monitoring, security patching, software updates on each device, firewall management and end-to-end testing, and it should have multi-level data backups with solid protocols and regular testing, all of which involve professional planning, management and significant monetary investment.
Hosting IT in your office also introduces physical risks such as overheating, power surges, fire, water damage or unauthorized access. In the event of a major disruption, data has to be recovered and systems restored, which can take days or weeks and have a significant impact on the practice.
Option 2: Moving to the Cloud
Many lawyers assume that the cloud is for very small firms; most likely they’re thinking of public, cloud-based systems such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
In this article, we refer to Private Cloud, which, though relatively new to the legal profession, has proven to be well-suited to the business needs of mid-sized law firms.
“Private Cloud” is the term used when an organization’s complete IT infrastructure and data is hosted in a professional data centre and delivered over the Internet. Users access the system via a secure virtual desktop on any device, instantly connecting them to their files and applications.
Private Cloud has many business benefits for law firms, including stable performance, scalable capabilities, built-in mobility and predictable costs. More and more firms across Canada are opting for this solution, and in 2018 the Law Society of Saskatchewan publicly recognized its benefits.
There are very few requirements for moving to a Private Cloud. There’s no upfront investment in IT equipment because the entire infrastructure is owned and operated by the provider. Instead, firms pay a predictable monthly fee that covers use of equipment, Microsoft software, IT services and support.
With the Private Cloud, you can opt to replace your desktop computers with more secure and economical thin client terminals, which connect you directly to your files and applications in the data centre.
Your firm can continue using familiar software such as Primafact, SpeechExec, Richo's Cost Recovery, PC Law or Time Matters: the Private Cloud is fully compatible with Windows-based software.
The Private Cloud delivers enterprise-class capabilities at scale, enabling mid-size firms to benefit from large firm technology. Its highly stable, reliable performance eliminates the frustrating interruptions that take your attention away from practice.
Moving to the cloud will break you out of the endless cycle of IT upgrades. You no longer have to concern yourself with the technicalities of your onsite system; your provider will take care of it all.
Your firm’s files are encrypted inside of the data centre, and no data is transmitted to your employees’ local devices, preventing potential exposure through theft or infection. Your network is protected by centralized monitoring, up-to-date anti-threat software and regular security patching.
Your firm will have business continuity even in extraordinary circumstances. Multiple redundant levels of backup provide for rapid recovery in scenarios ranging from accidental file deletion to complete data loss. Because the provider’s equipment is hosted in a professional data facility with state-of-the-art controls, physical disruptions are virtually eliminated.
Learn more about Private Cloud for law firms:
To put it simply, onsite IT can’t compete with the scaled capabilities of the cloud. Enterprise-class equipment and centralized management deliver highly stable and secure IT a mid-sized firm could never achieve onsite. With added benefits like minimized interruptions and predictable costs, Private Cloud delivers the hassle-free IT solution law firms need.
View our convenient Onsite IT vs Private Cloud Comparison Chart to assist you with making your decision.
|Mike Dewdney is CEO of LexCloud.ca.