Can you move your business to the "cloud"? I just read an interesting article written by Seth Rowland for Technolawyer. He gives a good overview of cloud computing and how it might impact your practice. I'm going to try to give you a synopsis of what he had to say.
File Server CostsWhen you look at the total cost of ownership, you need to include ongoing operational expenses, maintenance and support agreements. Factor in the costs of software along with the installation, configuration and training. The average costs breakdown something like this:
- $8000.00 - Server Hardware
- $6000.00 - Server and Network Configuration
- $3000.00 to $8000.00 - Software for 5 users
- $17000.00 to $22000.00 Total initial costs
- $1000.00 - $3000.00 - Annual Software maintenance
- $2000.00 - $4000.00 - Server Maintenance
- $3000.00 - $7000.00 Annual Recurring total
These fees do not include the intangibles such as security, administration, daily backups, test restores, application of updates and patches and a host of other tasks.
AlternativesPractice Management: There are currently four good hosted options: AdvologixPM, RocketMatter, Clio and HoudiniESQ. You can try these for free and then pay a monthly fee for each user. The prices range from $50 to $100 per user per month.
Online Backup: You have consumer products like Carbonite, Mozy and IDrive. Business-level software includes JungleDisk, Barracuda Backup Service, Iron Mountain and Rackspace Backup.
There are also hosted options for online document management as well as hosted Exchange server with Blackberry and SharePoint.
So what's the downside? Security is one of the big concerns everyone has about moving to online data storage. The reality is that most service providers provide secured encryption data transfer. The security of a cloud provider is far greater than the network security found in most small law firms when it comes to protection from hackers and intruders.
Data ownership is the other issue. Your agreement with your service provider specifies your rights to data ownership. You should read this carefully. Most provide a mechanism for local backup.
Access Risk: What if the Internet goes down or the service provider is offline? The reality is that if the Internet goes down, you will have difficulty conducting business, since so much is done via email. If your server goes down you could be out of business for hours or days; if your server hard drive fails and you can't recover your backups, you've lost a lot more than just time. It can take several days for a retrieval service to recover data from a crashed hard drive and there is no guarantee that they will restore everything.
On the other hand, cloud service providers have up-time commitments that range from 99.9 to 99.999%. Some even support off-line mode if you are in transit without an Internet connection. Remote access to the cloud is generally far superior to remote server access.
CONCLUSIONCloud computing isn't for everyone, however there are very real benefits: freedom of movement; pay only for the processing power and storage you need; add up to 100 users; grant secure access to clients via custom portals; there is no need for disaster recovery in the event of a fire or other natural disaster.
I think most firms will start by trying one or two applications and gradually move more and more of their operations to the cloud. I encourage you to try out one of the free trials that are offered.