Which cloud model is the right choice for your core practice management applications?


By David Ricketts and Carrie Morgan*

With governance, security and data residency being among the top focus areas for IT managers, you could think that cloud just wouldn’t work for the legal sector. Yet, firms are becoming increasingly comfortable with experimenting with cloud services for different tasks and non-critical applications. As hosting services become more mature and the cloud suppliers develop more awareness of the importance of data residency and security guidelines, firms are now able to look at deploying cloud services across their entire business; even underpinning their core practice management systems.

Now, legal IT managers are focusing on how they can harness the flexibility that cloud gives them, whilst bringing more governance and control back into their firms. It can be a complex minefield of different cloud models to sift through in order to find the perfect fit for your firm, and many organisations choose to avoid the cloud altogether due to the complexity involved in selecting a supplier.

In this article, we are going to look at the different cloud models that legal firms can consider for their core practice management platforms – and what is best suited to a legal organisation. At C24, we created a suitability matrix – highlighting what type of cloud model performed best for different requirements (i.e. security, service management, availability). We will now share the findings of this study with you.

Private On-Premise Cloud

A private on-premise cloud is a traditional onsite infrastructure, that has been built and designed to provide a shared resource pool of hardware within your own organisation (i.e. shared storage over dedicated storage, virtualised machines centrally managed) with a strong focus on the automation of infrastructure provisioning. The IT department acts as an IT service provider back into the business.

Pros:
– An on-premise private cloud can be tailored to your exact needs, creating a bespoke solution that an infrastructure provider can design and integrate into your existing IT environment.
– The infrastructure will not be shared with other organisations to reduce the risk of performance or security impact.
– If you need increased resiliency, you can build in your own provisions to the solution for disaster recovery, higher levels of connectivity, and define your own SLAs.
– Once the up-front investment is made, you can sweat the assets for as long as they are supported or functioning.

Cons:
– With an on-premise private cloud, security can often be lower than what you would expect from a purpose-built datacentre from a hosting provider. Many local datacentres consist of a server room within an office which doesn’t have the security of fireproof datacentres, with armed guards and stringent access control policies.
– Flexibility in the short term will be higher, but once you have used the capacity and reached the performance ceiling of your solution you will have to pay for upgrades – and the platform may not even have the capability to be upgraded.
– If the infrastructure or software supplier chooses to discontinue support for your solution, you are forced into refreshing your IT sooner than you had planned.
– The management and monitoring of the platform is your problem – the day to day management and support falls to the IT team.

Hosted Private Cloud

A hosted private cloud is a dedicated compute, storage and networking resource, hosted by a cloud provider. The solution is tailored and built to the client’s requirements, rather than being a standardised service within a multi-tenant environment as typically offered by Public cloud providers.

Pros:
– Hosting providers tend to have high levels of datacentre security as the datacentres they operate and host within are purpose built for delivering enterprise, secure hosting to clients.
– When you work with a trusted hosting provider, you are working with an organisation whose core business activity is delivering hosted IT.
– Having a private cloud hosted with an expert provider gives you the benefit of a dedicated environment that has been built to your needs within a specialist hosting centre.
– The management, monitoring and support is relatively low-touch from your side as this is left to the hosting provider to look after your IT environment.
– With a private cloud model, you have more control to define SLAs, connectivity requirements and data security and residency.
– Your data is located where you need it to be.

Cons:
– Deploying a hosted private cloud solution takes longer than deploying adhoc services with a Public Cloud provider (such as email services, web-hosting).
– Public cloud has more flexibility to scale services on the fly, and you have the ability with many public cloud solutions to self-provision compute resource through a web-based tool.
– Private cloud hosting will inevitably be more expensive than multi-tenant public cloud services due to economies of scale.

 

Public Cloud

The public cloud space encompasses larger providers who offer multi-tenant solutions to clients, often located outside of the UK. Services are usually standardised and commoditised with little room for tailoring to firm’s specific IT environments. Examples of Public Cloud providers are Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Pros:
– Costs for multi-tenant services are low and typically have low set up costs also.
– Services are easy to set up and activate – often just requiring a login and credit card.
– Public cloud is often flexible for easy scaling and can offer the ability to self-provision services.
– By its nature, Public cloud is a scalable model within which the mainstream providers operate vast datacentres with lots of available room for clients to grow into.

Cons:
– Costs for services can escalate when enterprise features are added on; such as disaster recovery, security, backup elements, performance guarantees.
– Multiple cloud accounts across the organisation can be difficult to manage; especially as departments start to procure cloud services outside of IT’s control. This can result in Public Cloud sprawl throughout the firm.
– Security can be an issue for legal firms who need to know where their data is located and held. Also there are many data governance issues about how to take back data from a public cloud provider once the service has ended, all of which need to be considered carefully.

 

Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud shares resources between your on-premise infrastructure, and your cloud provider (be that Public or Private). This could mean having onsite mission critical applications deployed locally, and specific applications hosted in the cloud and consumed within a software-as-a-service model.

Pros:
– Provides you with the level of control you want – if you require more control then you can retain more services in house, or if you want less control then you can tip the balance and put more services to the cloud.
– There is more flexibility to grow as you can expand your Public Cloud and Private Cloud services whilst still having core solutions onsite in your datacentre.
– Performance can be high when and where you need it – you can cope with spikes in performance by consuming more services from the cloud at busy times and scale back down to your local infrastructure during quiet periods.
– If security is a concern then you can make sure your data is located in the right place by putting workloads on the most appropriate platform for the application.
– A hybrid model is flexible enough to combine true public cloud, hosted private cloud and onsite technology for an organisation – enabling services to be delivered from the appropriate provider, depending on security, performance and SLAs.

Cons:
– Management of the entire infrastructure may be higher if you are managing multiple cloud services in addition to your onsite technology.
– Your IT team will need to be both a manager of services (from cloud providers) and IT service providers themselves (of their own infrastructure) to reach a balance.

Conclusion

In the long term, it is expected that firms will move out many of their generic IT platforms to the cloud, in order to reduce the amount of time spent managing and fixing hardware issues. Most firms will adopt a hybrid model, making use of Public cloud services where it fits and retaining control over core Practice Management applications by placing them with a private hosting provider or by delivering the platforms onsite.

However, as more innovative legal-specific technology is introduced, it is likely that most new applications will be delivered in a software-as-a-service model, or at least developed to be –as-a-service ready – making it easier for firms to put services out to the cloud with minimal transitional work needed.

As private and multi-tenant hosting providers in the legal sector, we are seeing more and more legal firms looking to the cloud to deliver cost-efficiencies and flexibility, and many are becoming confident with putting core practice management platforms out to the cloud – to increase their own IT security and datacentre compliance capabilities. This shows a marked change in the industry as the cloud market matures and starts to offer a secure, viable cloud option to legal firms.

 

* David Ricketts is Head of Marketing and Sales at C24 Ltd and Carrie Morgan is Director at The Sales Way Ltd. C24 Ltd is one of the UK’s leading specialist managed service and hosting providers. Working with businesses all over the globe, the company manages, secures and delivers critical business applications to over 100 countries, with a particular focus on the legal sector. It is also a strategic Thomson Reuters partner and delivers enterprise hosting platforms for Thomson Reuters Elite clients who are looking for more flexible solutions for their core practice management platforms. www.c24.co.uk

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