Insight Legal Chairman, Brian Welsh gives us his thoughts on cloud-based deployments and picking the right solution for your firm.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out why cloud-based solutions are so popular among companies looking for a place to store, manage and process their data. When you compare costs and see the significant savings that come with not having to manage and maintain your own servers, it’s a no-brainer. Of course, like anything that sounds too good to be true, what you make up in cash savings, you lose in handing over control of your data, servers and security. These risks don’t make opting for a cloud-based deployment a mistake; it just means you need to be aware of the risks and pick the solution that’s right for your organisation.
Before we look at the main types of cloud-based deployment in the legal space , let’s get clear on what ‘the cloud’ means. If you are anything like me, even though you might rationally know that the cloud isn’t actually a cloud, when you picture it, you still think of it hovering above you in a white, fluffy form. However, to make it dead simple, ‘the cloud’ is simply someone else’s server.
Rackspace puts it succinctly when they explain: “Cloud computing (also called simply, ‘the cloud’) describes the act of storing, managing and processing data online – as opposed to on your own physical computer or network.”
We’ve already discussed the financial benefits of the cloud, but how do you identify the right cloud-based deployment that mitigates the risk? To begin with, you must find a reputable supplier because giving up control of your data is a huge step. I’ve put together a white paper to guide you through that process, you can find it here.
So, assuming that you will take the necessary steps to find a reputable supplier, what options will you have to choose from?
Option 1: Web-based Cloud Solutions
Let’s explore the most inexpensive and vastly popular first – web-based cloud solutions. The flexibility and accessibility of browser access are very attractive to companies who want to get things up and running with minimal cost and fuss. Each user can access the data via a web page where they input a login. It’s so easy to use that tech giants like Google even give away this kind of server space for free to their consumers via Google Drive. Those free accounts don’t have the type of storage that an organisation is likely to require, but it’s still pretty inexpensive to rent server space in a web-based cloud.
You can see why start-ups or companies who may want to scale up their users quickly would pick this option because it gives them a low-cost way of getting what they need, when they need it without significant financial outlay. However, from a security point of view, you are relying on your browser for security, plus anyone anywhere can get access to your login screen. Many organisations might find they can live with that level of vulnerability because its cost benefits outweigh the security concern. But make no mistake, you will be taking risks.
Option 2: Application-based Cloud Solutions
For tighter security, many firms opt for an application-based solution. Once again, all your data is stored on somebody else’s server, but to access it, you need to have the app. Unlike web-based deployments, you can’t access the server from anywhere in the world simply by typing an address in your browser. Instead, you need to have the app downloaded onto your PC and login from there.
Rather than interacting with data via a browser, all the data interaction is done via the app itself, building many extra layers of security in. The app needs to be optimised as the data actually moves up and down the line from the database in the cloud to your PC for processing. As you can imagine, if you are working with sensitive legal data or property contracts, this is the level of security your clients will demand. The reputational damage caused by a data breach could be catastrophic, so paying for an app-based deployment is probably a wise investment.
Option 3: Terminal Services and Virtual Private Networks
Some organisations still prefer to use terminal services and virtual private networks (VPNs) to manage and process the data they store on the cloud. Purely from a security point of view, it’s unrivalled, so it makes sense that some firms prefer to stick to this very traditional approach. If a software supplier can only work with you via terminal services and VPN, it’s probably because their product isn’t capable of web or app-based deployment yet. It’s not necessarily problem, because if data security is your primary concern, then this is the most secure of the three solutions. However, the software on offer is probably written in older tech, which is something to bear in mind.
If you use a terminal service, each user has a desktop that is situated on the cloud server itself, and they work via an interface on their local PC. All the interaction that happens between the user and the data takes place on the remote cloud server, with users having only screen, mouse and keyboard interaction on their local device.
If you connect through a VPN, you are assigned a private IP address. When nefarious people try to access the VPN, they get kicked out because they don’t have the designated IP address. Nothing is resident on the local PC, so there are no concerns about data being compromised on individual machines. Some firms choose to move their entire local network to the cloud and then set up a VPN to connect everyone, ensuring that the security is extra tight.
What you may find a challenge with this set up is the inflexibility with some software and loss of productivity when speeds slow or there’s a problem with the central server. Terminal service users have automatically limited options. So, if there’s a server failure, they can’t simply log into individual applications and keep on working. If you are using standard software, you might find some incompatibility with the server that means you can’t take advantage of everything offered.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to all three cloud-based deployments, and you just need to work out which one works best for you. We all have to manage cost, security demands and accessibility according to the needs of our organisation and customers. Just make sure that you work with a reputable supplier to ensure you get the most out of whichever choice you make.
Please refer to our White Paper; A guide to choosing the right legal software for your firm