A Primer Note on the Cloud
At the 12th Annual Solo Day, held during the 2012 MSBA Annual Meeting in June, there was a lot of interest regarding “Cloud Computing”. This month’s article is submitted by Jack Newton, President of Clio, a cloud computing practice management software which is endorsed by the MSBA.
Cloud computing and its effect on practice for solo and small firm practitioners will also be addressed at the 13th Solo Conference on Saturday, November 17, 2012, at the BWI Hilton. You can register for the Conference at www.msbasoloconference.org. A flyer with conference information also accompanies this issue of the Bar Bulletin. Specific details of the program will be online on August 15.
Two iPads and one Galaxy will be raffled at lunch at the Solo Conference. If you register by November 5, you will automatically be eligible for the raffle.
Cloud computing has rapidly evolved from a technology used by a small number of leading-edge law firms to a broadly adopted technology embraced by firms of all sizes.
Cloud computing, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), refers to the notion of computing (software and data) being delivered as a service over the Internet. That is, rather than accessing software and data on desktop computers and servers located “on premise”, you access your software and data via a web browser. With the cloud computing model, your software and data are hosted and maintained by a third-party provider.
While this might sound abstract, you are likely already using cloud computing directly or indirectly: Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Salesforce.com can all be considered cloud-based technologies.
Some of the factors driving the rapid adoption of cloud computing include:
Cloud computing offers an unparalleled level of freedom to get your work done where and when you choose. Because your software and data are available on any device with an Internet connection, you can access your practice’s data from your law office, from home, from court, or even on vacation if the need arises.
Cloud computing also offers compelling cost savings over traditional desktop-based solutions. To compare costs between cloud computing and traditional on-premise solutions we can use a “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO) analysis, where all the direct and indirect costs of each solution is compared over a three-year period. Such analyses typically show cloud computing solutions offer a 50 percent to 75 percent cost savings over traditional desktop-based solutions.
Cloud computing’s cost savings are largely driven by reduced hardware and software costs. Unlike traditional desktop software, where a significant investment in software, hardware, and consulting is required, cloud computing solutions typically require no up-front investment and offer simple, month-to-month subscription pricing.
With traditional desktop software, your data was often “trapped” on your desktop. Accessing your data from a mobile device, if not impossible, would often involve a cumbersome and error-prone “syncing” process.
Cloud computing, on the other hand, offers “live” access to your cloud computing software and data via a mobile-optimized website or application. You can potentially access gigabytes of cloud-based data on-demand without any need for a cumbersome sync process, and you have the confidence you’re always looking at the most up-to-date version of your data.
As we enter a “post-PC” era dominated by devices like the iPad, iPhone, and Motorola Xoom, the importance of having access to your data where and when you choose will only continue to rise. Cloud computing and the new generation of mobile devices are for a perfect fit for each other.
Cloud computing offers a level of security and data protection superior to on-premise solutions. Cloud computing vendors typically store data in highly secure, specialized data centers adhering to SAS 70 Type II auditing standards with 24/7 security monitoring and advanced, biometric-based access procedures. Cloud-based providers also perform routine and intensive server penetration testing which, when coupled with high levels of physical security, offered an unprecedented level of data protection.
Additionally, most cloud computing providers will offer geographically redundant storage of your data, meaning your data will remain intact and secure even if a data center suffers a catastrophic failure.
However, the above security provisions are by no means standard across cloud computing providers; they are “best practices” that you should ensure your prospective cloud computing provider adheres to.
Ease of Use
One of the biggest benefits of cloud-based solutions is the speed at which they can typically be deployed into a law firm.
Since they only depend on a web browser, most cloud-based solutions can be deployed in a matter of minutes. This stands in stark contrast to traditional desktop-based solutions, which can often entail days or weeks of installation, setup, and customization time.
Training time on cloud-based solutions is also often much less than traditional desktop solutions. Since users interact with cloud-based solutions via a web browser, there is virtually no learning curve – interacting with the cloud-based application is just like using any other website. Traditional desktop applications, on the other hand, often involve much steeper learning curves due to their non-standardized and complex user interfaces.