Friday, April 22, 2011

Chicken Little Was Right!!


From the perspective of a law office, discovering that Amazon’s EC2 had crashed at 3:30am PDT and was not back at 100% 24 hours later was more than disturbing news. While Amazon and the sites like REDDIT were most directly affected Thursday, that is only because "Cloud Computing" is still in its infancy - or is it?

The move from an office based server environment to fully hosted services is a major change for any business entity. But, where the nature of the industry is change adverse, and where technology is sometimes viewed as a necessary evil (with evil being the dominant theme), losing control of any part of day to day operations is traumatic. Even the term "Cloud Computing" is off-putting to many who thought that navigating Al Gore's Internet was the worst they'd have to learn. The lack of understanding of how this "new technology" works is what makes it frightening. Hearing or reading about Amazon's Cloud crashing is reason enough not to move in that direction; if Amazon cannot make things work, who can, and how can any of it be trusted?

Law offices depend on huge quantities of coherent and painstakingly constructed information Even small firms that have 100 cases in some stage of being open need instant availability of client and case information. Client names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses, and the all-important docket/calendaring system for deadlines that can mean the saving or loss of a house, a default in a Court that can win or lose a client his/her business, or missing a deadline that gets an attorney sanctioned, are just a few of the needs for information. Combine the framework with the substantive matters like research, correspondence, and records of past conversations, and one can grasp the need for always-up data systems in law offices.

That 99.99% up-time is what The Cloud has promised. For small offices keeping the one server and workstations with outside "call-them-when needed IT professionals", or even the medium sized firm that has 100 users and a full-time network administrator, IT guru, and part-time billing specialist, out-sourcing is being touted. Without that move, the server will crash, there will be no current backup and everything will stop dead. We, The Cloud Gods will avoid any of that from happening. Trust us!

While this is being written, there are a few Cloud based law office "suites" that combine most of the IT elements a law office needs. One good suite being offered to hundreds of attorneys, as an incentive to join a very good legal network of attorneys who try to help people and businesses, was off-line all day and evening Thursday 4/21/11. It had just a single web page that stated in part, "we are in good company" as it tried to reassure member lawyers that the data was intact and that "as soon as whatever happened is fixed" the system will be back running. The setback to Cloud computing for small and medium sized law offices may be enormous. All of the worst fears came true. The lack of control allowed the sky to fall, metaphorically at least.

The knee-jerk reaction of the attorneys, who had no way to contact a client, could not look at the calendar for the day and tomorrow, and could not even finish the research project they had spent 90 hours on because all of the research notes were on Cloud based applications and data files, may well be to retreat. Back to the small server and workstations hoping that the new Dell or HP machines will still have Windows XP and not 7, and that the new server will still run 2003. At least they knew what to expect and they controlled it. It was right there in the back room and the IT guy could come in and fix it. And further, these lawyers will convince themselves that the law was meant to be read and written on paper and put in locking cabinets.

Very, very seriously, there will be the bankruptcy that didn't get filed in time to save a house, and the Court date that will be missed tomorrow to show-up for the collections case that means meeting payroll for the client or not. Some offices will lose clients, some associates will be fired for convincing the Partners to move to the "new" technology, and many computer sales types will have a windfall. But make no mistake, dependency full off-premises hosted services will take longer to sell to all of the attorneys who lost a day of up-time and the next year of sleep.

Oh, and the punch line - migrating up was a snap. Migrating down - NOT SO EASY.

Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq., April 2011

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