Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cloud Computing for Small Firms

Cloud computing presents a monumental opportunity to improve the way information technology needs are addressed over the coming years. For small firms, particularly law firms, the benefits can be transformational to the practice. Understanding and embracing this trend should be a high priority for those who make technology decisions in these environments.
The days of buying servers and software and putting them in your office are all but over. Power, air conditioning, data communications, networking, fire suppression, security and other concerns related to in-office servers consume time and money that is better spent elsewhere. In a “cloud computing” solution, servers can reside in professionally managed data centers instead of your office. This reduces not only the one-time costs of buying the servers and creating your own mini data center, but also means you don’t have to hire people to design, build, and support these systems.

At one time or another we have all been a victim of the shortcomings of the traditional client/server environment. An email system in your office goes down on the weekend, someone has to: a) know that it’s gone down; b) be willing and able to fix it; and c) have the expertise and spare parts to fix either the hardware or software. The headache and expense of these technology crises add very little value to your practice.

Because cloud computing is still an emerging solution, the standards for service have yet to be defined. For now, it is recommended that adopters stick with established providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and, to name just a few. In core functions such as email (Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo! mail or similar), Customer Relationship Management [CRM] (, Microsoft CRM or similar) and applications (NetSuite, Google Docs, Microsoft Live or similar), these companies have established themselves as high quality vendors that small firms can trust.

The benefits are plentiful:

• Faster start-up time;
• No capital expenditure (CapEx) costs;
• No need to design, order and build your computing requirements;
• No need to use costly square footage to house servers in your offices;
• No need to hire people to manage your specific servers;
• No issues with evening and weekend support coverage;
• Access to high-end applications for a nominal fee; and
• No costs for upgrading software or hardware every few years.

Detractors point to the benefits of a traditional client/server environment:

• The ability to physically secure your data;
• Faster speed due to no telecommunications delays;
• Ability to customize the software and/or environment;
• Potential competitive advantage through customization; and
• Possibly less cost over four or more years.

Small firms will not typically leverage these benefits of a dedicated server; they will only bear the costs. For the typical small law firm, there is rarely a true need for in-house computers and servers other than desktop or laptop computers – and even that is changing. The use of cloud computing provides you with the ability to quickly and affordably access big company technology without all the headaches.

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