Cloud Computing: Truly Beneficial or Highly Overrated?

Current processing trends seems to embrace the concept of Cloud Computing, also known as SaaS (Software as a Service), rather than the traditional locally installed and hosted PC application. Are SaaS applications truly beneficial, or a passing trend that savvy users should avoid?

DeskTop Business Solutions supports and maintains both platforms — a locally installed and hosted (PC/LAN) and a SaaS Law Practice Management application. Both are of equal quality. What are the concerns, advantages, or disadvantages of the different platforms?

Control of Physical Data

PC/LAN applications provide ready access to data, but also require that the law firm manage and safeguard this data. If destroyed through virus, accident, theft, or fire, there must be provisions in place to resume business with a current backed up copy of the application and data. What costs are incurred by the firm in managing locally installed data?

  1. IT personnel often must be hired to design, configure and maintain an automated backup system.
  2. Backup media must be purchased and replaced at regular intervals.
  3. An off-site system must be available should you need to continue business after a disaster. This system must include a restoration device identical to the backup system, such as a tape drive, to restore the backup from.
  4. An employee of the firm must be assigned the DAILY responsible to verify a successfully completed backup. They must replace the backup media, so that that the current backup is secure and the next backup can execute.
  5. The actual contents of the backup should be reviewed to ensure that relevant files are actually backed up. Many backups ignore files in use. Therefore, if someone neglects to sign off of the Law Practice Management system, it’s possible that this database will be omitted from the backup.
  6. The backup must be stored in a safe and secure off-site location, with copies maintained for a reasonable period of time.
  7. Backups should be routinely restored and tested to verify the accuracy and reliability of the backed up data.
  8. Office servers should be equipped with power filtration and battery backup to ensure data is not corrupted. Batteries must be checked and replaced annually.

SaaS applications provide the ability to offload data management services to IT professionals. Management provided by DeskTop Business includes the following:

  1. Data is securely hosted and managed by the Cloud provider eliminating the time and costs involved in locally managing this data.
  2. Data is continually backed up and encrypted. Copies of this encrypted backup are stored in multiple off-site locations on a daily basis, using state of the art data security procedures. Backups are retained for a full year.
  3. Subscribers have full and continuous access to their data and can download a complete copy at any time. All downloaded data is delivered in an easily portable Excel format.
  4. Internet transmissions between the user and server are securely encrypted.
  5. Data is protected by state of the art security practices, including multiple firewall protection, to minimize the possibility of data corruption through virus or unauthorized access.
  6. DeskTop Business’ servers are located in secure, locked down, climate controlled, fire resistant, hosting facilities with redundant power supplies and multiple avenues of Internet access.

System Maintenance and Support

PC/LAN applications require the law firm to be responsible for installing and maintaining the software application. What are the time and costs incurred by the firm in providing this service?

  1. IT personnel are usually hired to install the software and correctly configure multi-user accessibility.
  2. Using a combination of PC’s and Mac’s are discouraged. Windows applications do not naturally operate across varying platforms.
  3. Enhancements are typically purchased and must be installed on all PC’s within the firm. During installation it’s common to encounter conflicts with various computers and/or different versions of operating systems which complicate the upgrades.
  4. Upgrades or enhancements must often be done by IT professionals. The process often includes special backups, installations, conversion of data and problem resolutions with technical support. Since technical support is generally not available off-hours this often translates to application down-time during business hours.
  5. Technical telephone support is more difficult when the vendor doesn’t have direct access to the user’s application. The user will try to communicate a problem but may omit key information, or the vendor representative may not correctly grasp the problem. Either option may result in an erroneous answer.

SaaS applications simplify and virtually eliminate system maintenance.

  1. All software is accessed through an Internet browser eliminating the need for installation of application software on local computers.
  2. Enhancements to SaaS applications are automatically installed by the service provider and immediately available to users by simply logging on. Enhancements are much more frequent because they don't have to be packaged and shipped out as new “product releases”.
  3. Support questions can be quickly and accurately answered. With the user’s permission, a DeskTop Business representative can log on to the users account, view the exact situation, and provide the correct answer.

Accessibility

PC/LAN applications are designed to be accessed from the location at which they are installed. What concerns are associated with PC/LAN remote access?

  1. PC/LAN applications are not designed to be accessed from outside locations and naturally discourage utilization of the application while away from the office.
  2. Remote access usually requires the purchase and utilization of a third party program, such as GoToMyPc or pc/Anywhere.
  3. Remote access often requires that a PC remain on and unattended during remote access.
  4. Remote access may require contracted IT support to configure the remote solution.

SaaS applications are designed to be accessed from anywhere at any time. It doesn’t matter where you’re working, your office, home, clients office, court, or while traveling. Secure unlimited access is instantly available through any Internet browser.

What happens to my data and application if my Cloud Computing service goes out of business?

We can’t speak for all Cloud Computing organizations, but DeskTop Business has been in business for over 30 years and remains on the cutting edge of technology. Even so, we do have a contingency plan in place to protect our subscribers.

  1. We’ve established an arrangement with another Service Provider to serve as a backup and host our application in the event DeskTop Business ceases operations.
  2. We provide this backup provider with a current, encrypted, copy of an off-site data backup. This data cannot be viewed or accessed by anyone except high level Desktop Business IT personal.
  3. In the event DeskTop Business ceases operations, our corporate attorney will immediately contact all LAWS/Pro subscribers, forward the necessary security accessibility information to our backup provider, and request that they initiate service. This can all be done in one business day.

Summary

Cloud computing is a technological advance truly driven by consumer benefit. It provides a quality application, combined with an entire collection of services, much cheaper and more efficiently then could be provided otherwise. Cloud computing securely manages the law firm’s data, eliminates upfront licensing fees, significantly decreases IT costs, and provides anytime, anywhere access. Offloading these services to a cloud computing service allows the law firm to redirect time away from time consuming and costly system maintenance to increasing revenue by providing additional billable services to clients. If you would like to experience these benefits consider a Cloud based Law Practice Management system such as LAWS/Pro.

Peter D. Konetchy is President of DeskTop Business Solutions which has been in business for over 30 years offering time, billing, and accounting software to the legal profession. In 2001 DTBusiness introduced their 100% Internet-based Law Practice Management application, LAWS/Pro, which includes calendar, time, billing, accounts receivable, general ledger and a document repository. We at LawVibe.com are pleased to have DeskTop Business Solutions as a sponsor of our website. Further information can be obtained from their website at dtbusiness.



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