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Cloud Computing - Introduction

This is a transcript of a podcast discussing cloud computing and the practice of law.

Speaker Key:  PB: Phil Brown, DW: David Whelan

PB: Hi, it's Phil Brown. I'm here with David Whelan and we're going to talk about cloud computing. So, the first question, I guess, would be what is cloud computing?

DW: Well, it depends, I guess, on what you define as the cloud. Most people will come out with a basic definition that the cloud is something that's hosted outside of your network on someone else's computers. So it could be your Flickr photos, it could be your legal research with LexisNexis or Westlaw, but it's something that you used to have inside your office and now you're hosting outside.

PB: And would that include e-mail and other things like that?

DW: Absolutely. And I think people probably don't realise that they're using the cloud already when they are using Google Mail or they're using hotmail.  But that really is the same sort of thing, where before they might have had the e-mail system on their computer and the e-mail would download, now they access it through a web browser.

PB: So essentially, just to clarify the bit about the e-mail, their e-mail is stored on a server outside their office, which is essentially what makes it part of the cloud.

DW: Right, and that's really one of the benefits. I think one of the other ways you can look at the cloud is that if you use Microsoft Office on your desktop and people have suggested using the cloud for creating documents, you don't really need to do that, you can continue to use Microsoft Office but you might use Dropbox for storage into the cloud. So the cloud can act as a place where you put things as a backup to your in-office technology.

PB: And when you put it in the cloud, I mean, one of the benefits of putting something in the cloud or storing something in the cloud is essentially you can access it from anywhere in the world if you had an internet connection.

DW: Right.

PB: And of course to go along with that theory is the issue of potential security and other people might be able to access that same information.

DW: Yes, and I think that's the big hang-up, is that lawyers with confidentiality issues and privacy issues with the information they're putting out into the cloud, really have to have a good understanding of where that information is sitting. 

PB: And, I guess, the other issue is not just where it's sitting but how did it get there?

DW: Right.

PB: Because it could be routed through 40 other countries before it actually arrived at its storage location.

DW: Exactly, and I think in some ways you can say it's safe to go with the big names, going with Google or going with Microsoft and its Web Apps or Office 365 because at least you know it's a brand name that is well known. As you get to smaller companies, or particularly when you start to deal with cloud technology that has been built specifically for lawyers, you're dealing with smaller companies that may be hard to know exactly where they keep their information, how you are accessing it and how they are taking care of it when you're not accessing it.

PB: One of the things, David, I want to talk about is software, the concept of software as a service, instead of loading software onto your computer. What's that about?

DW: Well, you can compare it to sites like Dropbox where all you're doing is uploading files and you're storing them. There is nothing really going on. With software as a service you are really taking software from your computer and taking those features and accessing them on a website. So your word processor, your case management program, your calendar, all of those sorts of things, and then the software exists out on the server. You don't keep any software on your local computer and you primarily access it through a web browser.

PB: And one of the advantages of that would be, you're not loading any software onto your computer, you're not subscribing to updates, get buying new software the next year and uploading the newest thing. All of that's done on the back end by the company maintaining the software.

DW: Right. And that can be a real advantage for a solo or small firm because you don't have to find yourself falling behind on the benefits or the features in a particular application. It's always kept up to date for you.

PB: And typically, I should mention, there's a monthly fee associated per lawyer or per assistant who is using that sort of service.

DW: Right. And I think that's probably one of the bigger changes for lawyers buying technology, is that normally you pay a price and then you own that information or that technology. Now you would be paying a subscription. The benefit of that, though, is that if you have a technology budget, or even more importantly if you haven't, this will help you to plan your technology budget because you will have subscription costs for each month for your year.

PB: Right, and one of the things we should talk about, I guess, is the potential downside of the software as a service kind of subscription. 3

DW: Right, and it's not just your internet connection isn't available some day or that the provider is out of contact for a day or two; their servers go down, for example, but it's really what happens if there is a catastrophe or the business is gone.

PB: There are a number of practice management software businesses out there that provide this service and a lot of fairly new players who have just come up in the last year or two who might be under-capitalised, and I guess that's one of the things you don't know about initially.

DW: Yes, and I think that it's a real challenge because on the one hand you can take advantage of being out in the cloud. I think it provides practitioners a lot of flexibility in how they practise, but when you start to get away from the bigger name companies or the better known companies, or the companies even who maybe aren't as well known but have been around for a number of years, it begins to become more and more difficult to find out which companies are going to be around for the long term.

PB: And then, of course, if the company does fold, you need to know what's happening to your information and how you can recover it and what it's going to cost you.

DW: Right. Software terms like Data Escrow and Third Party Storage are becoming more popular with legal technology cloud systems because you really want to make sure that someone else has that information in case the company that is holding it for you in the first place disappears.

PB: And so, just to end, I guess, a possible advantage of it would be something like the ability to travel with a clean laptop.

DW: Absolutely, yes, you could go across the border and you wouldn't have to have anything but a web browser.

PB: Right, so you'd be able to access all of your information and all of your programs through the software as a service over your internet, into the cloud but nothing is stored on your computer.

DW: Right.

PB: Thanks.

DW: Thank you, Phil.

Terms or Concepts Explained