Cloud Computing for LawyersBy Nicole L. Black, Published on March 6, 2010
Over the last year I'm sure you've heard a lot about "cloud computing" and by now you're probably wondering: what exactly is it?
At Webopedia.com, "Cloud Computing" is defined as a "type of computing that is comparable to grid computing, relies on sharing computing resources rather than having local servers or personal devices to handle applications. The goal of cloud computing is to apply traditional supercomputing power (normally used by military and research facilities) to perform tens of trillions of computations per second."
In other words, cloud computing makes it possible for your data and software platforms and services to be stored offsite, in the "cloud".
Online services of this type, which include software as a system (SaaS) and platforms as a system (PaaS), are becoming increasingly common and, for many lawyers, are an attractive alternative to the traditional law practice management software installed and maintained on a local server within a law office.
Online services available to attorneys now include law practice management systems, document management and storage platforms, secure document and information exchange services, secure email networks, digital dictation services and billing/timekeeping services. The online platforms are attractive, economical and viable alternatives for firms of all sizes.
Advantages include lower costs due to reduced overhead, less hassle related to maintaining the and upgrading the case management system and greater flexibility, since the Web-based system can be accessed anywhere, at anytime.
Taking advantage of cloud computing services allows firms to focus on the ever-important task of practicing law while the cloud computing provider operates, updates and maintains the practice management software.
Next, we'll be discussing the different types of cloud computing platforms and products. Once you've learned a bit more about cloud computing, you just may decide that it's time to consider incorporating cloud computing into your law firm's law practice management system.
What is SaaS?: Understanding the Concepts of Cloud Computing
The concept of cloud computing arises from the interplay of three concepts: IaaS (Infrastructure as a service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and SaaS (Software as a Service).
IaaS can be defined as: "a model in which an organization outsources the equipment used to support operations, including storage, hardware, servers and networking components. The service provider owns the equipment and is responsible for housing, running and maintaining it." Amazon EC2 and Rackspace are examples of this type of service.
SaaS can be defined as a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet." The vendor provides daily technical operation, maintenance, and support for the software provided to their client. Examples include the email service Gmail and the virtual data room service offered by Firmex.
While these concepts may, at first glance, seem confusing, it's really quite simple: cloud computing platforms allow lawyers to focus on practicing law by providing a cost-effective way to outsource the burden of managing and maintaining servers, hardware and software platforms.
Cloud computing companies offer a unique and flexible solution, allowing attorneys to focus their time where it counts-serving their clients.
As we'll discuss in future posts, cloud computing can trigger some thorny ethical and security issues for lawyers, but in many cases can also provide better security than that currently being used by many law firms.
For example, encrypted communications via cloud computing platforms offer far more security than the unencrypted emails typically used by most law practices.
As discussed previously, the unencrypted email systems used by most law firms are inherently insecure and place confidential client data at risk.
However, there are secure alternatives to email, using cloud computing products, like Firmex online document workspace, that incorporate some form of encrypted client communication into their platforms. These cloud computing platforms provide lawyers with a ready-made solution to the problem of unencrypted, insecure email.
There are a number of products available that allow attorneys to securely exchange large volumes of confidential documents and information with opposing counsel, clients and others. For example, law firms can use secure virtual data rooms such as those provided by Firmex, to collaborate and communicate with other users, manage online due diligence, exchange closing drafts, create digital record books, share litigation documents, and secure client access to important files.
Firmex's secure virtual data rooms are SaaS-based, so attorneys can access their virtual data rooms wherever the Internet can be accessed. There's no need to install and maintain costly servers and software. Instead, lawyers can simply and safely log on and access their data room from anywhere.
The electronic data rooms are extremely secure, thus allowing for safe, uncompromised communications. The primary hosting facility has bank level security, SAS 70 Type II Compliant Data Centre, the server has load balancing and redundancy, and incorporates real-time fail-over and off-site back-up. The virtual data rooms are protected by: 1) 128-bit SSL security certificates for data encryption, 2) network firewalls, anti-virus and anti intrusion applications, and 3) an industry top-rated application firewall that actively monitors user behavior to ensure it is within acceptable parameters of application use; unusual behavior is flagged and the user session terminated automatically.
Because most email platforms are inherently insecure, more lawyers, with client confidentiality in mind, will begin to seek encrypted alternatives for secure communication and document exchange. Firmex's online data rooms are a great choice, offering law firms a secure, encrypted alternative to the unencrypted, insecure email systems that many law firms currently use.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the Online Document Management & Collaboration blog, by Firmex.