Cloud computing – should we move?
This is the last in a series of articles on Cloud computing which has appeared in Law News over the past few months.
Topics covered include what to consider when looking to move to Cloud services, law firm duties, privacy, security, taxation, access and lockouts (see Issue 27, 14 August 2015, Issue 32, 18 September 2015, Issue 37, 23 October 2015 and Issue 40, 13 November 2015).
This final article looks at whether a move to the Cloud is right for your firm or client, what options are available and what alternatives can be implemented to get the same service, without falling into the difficulties I have discussed.
Calculating costs for data access
First, it is important to consider cost of data storage, transfer and service calculation, to make sure that, when suppliers quote on Cloud services, any proposed solution provides what the firm actually needs without increasing costs.
The firm must ask itself: how much data is to be held on the Cloud? How often is it to be accessed, and what devices need said access? Each of these questions involves an assessment of data sizes and general use so that appropriate bandwidth and data storage can be made available for portable devices (laptops included) and the backbone network at the office (each computer that will access the data).
Online calculators can be a useful tool in assessing how much bandwidth etc. will be appropriate – for an example of such a calculator, see http://www.thecloudcalculator. com/calculators/file-transfer.html.
Careful consideration needs to be given as to what data may need to be held off-site, as outbound bandwidth is often small (such as with ADSL which provides only 700 to 800 kbps in upload bandwidth, which equates to several hours of transfer time).
When considering access from mobile devices, it should be noted that although some carriers provide good bandwidth access (such as 4G), bandwidth caps are placed on the network and additional charges apply to over-use.
Accordingly, firms need to consider carefully who needs access to files and if they have WiFi access outside of the office, and whether mobile users’ contracts need to be modified to allow for the additional data.
The firm must also consider how much the file base is likely to grow so that calculations can be made for cost increases in Cloud provisioning. Most Cloud providers charge by the space, cpu and memory usage, so adding more files and users increases the need for more data storage space and memory.
A rough calculation is 15 users (i.e. individual devices) per gigabyte of ram. As a rough example, a Cloud service to handle 80 users would require 1 cpu core (that is physical cpu not virtual or thread cpu), 80GB hard drive space to provide 1 GB per user, and 5GB memory.
The next step is for the firm to consider its current workflow, staff engagement, communication techniques and policies to see if a Cloud solution would enhance performance or detract from it. Current law firm infrastructure often relies on an in-house server that allows access to a storage and access database with management and trust accounting systems (PCLaw and LAWbase from LexisNexis are some examples). Often, these systems are deployed over old-fashioned protocols which are not compatible with TCP/IP (internet protocol), which means a software change or upgrade may be needed. Further, some systems, even if compatible with TCP/IP, transmit such large amounts of data that accessing the system via the internet is simply impractical due to the cost of bandwidth/data usage.
Client information and instructions are often recorded in note systems (such as OneNote or PCLaw) to help track information. The ability to search these notes and obtain information directly assist with compliance of rules 4.4.1 and 7 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008. Law firms therefore need to consider how their current IT system meet these obligations and whether Cloud services may assist with effective compliance.
Firms should also consider how their staff utilise their time when inputting data, whether information is transferred from one system to another (thus creating duplication), and whether a Cloud-based application will help. Most staff use an email application (for example, Microsoft Outlook) to shuffle emails, schedule appointments and manage contacts – this is often duplicated into a case management platform resulting in a number of wasted hours. Consideration should be given to whether a Cloud app would solve the problem or if a third party app would allow the gap to be bridged so that Outlook can save the information into a Cloud service. The firm can then decide if it is worth the expenditure to do so, depending on the size of the firm, what mobile devices are used, how data is tracked, and the way information needs to be handled to maintain compliance with obligations under the law.
In-house solutions may provide a better way
While much of the discussion in this series has related to internet Cloud systems, these are not the only solutions available. Many firms do not realise that they can in fact implement an in-house Cloud using secure software, set up on an in-house server with firewall adjustments (a service that can be leased, maintaining the operating expenditure benefit), allowing access from devices across the internet framework. This type of set-up requires little to no upfront investment and provides all the benefits of an off-site Cloud, without the compliance issues highlighted in previous articles. So rushing into an off-site Cloud may not be the correct approach and each firm should carefully consider what is best for it.
On a final note, it is likely that a number of lawyers within firms may have already engaged Cloud services (either free or paid) for their own efficiency, unknown to the law firm for which they work. Due to the compliance issues and the risks highlighted in the privacy and security article of this series, partners of firms should undertake an audit of staff as to their Cloud usage and set a Cloud service policy that makes sure that the firm does not become liable for a breach of compliance through an unwitting staff member.
Over this series I have endeavoured to briefly highlight and deal with issues in Cloud implementation ranging from professional responsibility, privacy, security, access, compliance issues and taxation, to whether the move is actually worth making. While I have outlined some negative issues relating to Cloud services, it is important to note that the Cloud offers a great deal of benefit if implemented with appropriate policies to maintain legal compliance and according to the firm’s actual needs. I have also tried to assist firms when providing advice to clients considering using the Cloud.
To my mind, no matter which way you choose to deal with it, it is clear that Cloud services are likely to continue to impact legislation and law firms in the future. Greater benefits will arise and the Cloud will remain a force in software development for years to come. I hope this series has been both informative and instructive and I wish you all the best with your Cloud computing.