Not all ‘clouds’ are created equal. Is ‘cloud’ computing delivering on its promises?
The ‘cloud’ promise
The traditional in-sourced model of delivering and supporting legal IT solutions, with the majority of effort, investment and resource being focussed on keeping the lights on, is not well aligned to the needs of the modern law firm. Cloud based IT services offer the opportunity for IT departments to fundamentally change the way in which they operate and shift the focus of their teams to where their firms want it to be – finding ways to make their lawyers more productive. By accepting that the core infrastructure as nothing more than a commodity and adopting a cloud/utility approach means that IT resources can allocated to creating business value, understanding business need, and aligning IT to legal requirements. Instead of being experts in servers, operating systems, and storage solutions, the IT department can become experts in improving the way that lawyers need and want to work.
The ‘cloud’ reality
However, has the increasing adoption of ‘cloud’ technology enabled this change and fulfilled in its promises. In some case yes, but for many it hasn’t. Why? Well not all ‘cloud’ computing platforms were ‘created equal’ and as such offer different experiences and business benefits. In some respects it is possible to argue that certain approaches to ‘cloud’ adoption have increased the underlying complexity and placed an even greater burden on the technical IT resources.
“Cloud computing is a disruptive phenomenon, with the potential to make IT organizations more responsive than ever. Cloud computing promises economic advantages, speed, agility, flexibility, infinite elasticity and innovation.” – Gartner
Infrastructure as a service
While hugely scalable, flexible and cheap, public infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud solutions such and Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services still require IT resources to configure and manage key infrastructure components. IaaS offerings deliver a virtualised platform, and other resources such as firewalls and switches, upon which the client runs their own virtualised servers. While IaaS providers provision and manage the underlying hardware, the customer (the law firm) installs existing or new virtual servers into the cloud environment. The law firm is then responsible for managing their operating system and applications. This includes troubleshooting issues, patching, software upgrades and antivirus. If a new version of installed software is released or if a service pack for the operating system is released then the law firm is responsible for these updates.
In addition many firms are attracted to ‘hybrid’ cloud, in which they mix on-premise solutions with a number of different cloud offerings including software as a service (SaaS) and IaaS. But where does this leave them in their attempts to streamline process and remove the burden of day-to-day infrastructure management? In reality they are faced with even more complexity and the burden of trying to integrate and manage solutions from multiple providers.
Specialist enterprise ‘cloud’
In contrast to the IaaS cloud platforms described above, certain specialist providers offer a full ‘enterprise’ range of ‘cloud’ services to their clients. They are able to exploit the right combination of public and private cloud offerings for their clients in a fully managed solution, including the provisioning and maintenance of the desktop, applications, servers, storage, security, back-up and disaster recovery. This genuinely removes the burden of managing infrastructure from the valuable resources within the IT department, freeing them up to concentrate on activities that will exploit that platform (rather than ensuring it is working) to deliver have genuinely differentiating business solutions.
Whilst a number of law firms have started to move their IT solutions into the cloud, a number have lost the focus of why they were undertook the move – it’s not simply a change in the underlying architecture – ultimately it’s about improving the way that the lawyers do their work!
VESK for Legal
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