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Server or Cloud: everything you ever wanted to know but didn’t dare to ask

server or cloudServer or cloud again? On the one hand, it’s rapidly becoming an old question. On the other, especially for more traditional legal practices, it’s very much a current issue.

In the past, many proponents of the local server approach used a lot of hype to defend their territory. The hype mainly centred around the questionable security and reliability of the cloud. You can read more about cloud security in this section of our website.

All hype aside, there is still a place for both approaches in today’s legal profession. To help you make the right choice, let’s take a look at the differences between the two.

What are the differences?

Take a look at the graphic below.

server or cloud

A local server is that part of a firm’s IT that stores data centrally and shares access by permission. It also performs the security backup of the data, so that, when disaster strikes, the data is recoverable.

What is a cloud server? Actually, it’s the same thing. I promised to compare the differences, so that’s not very helpful, is it?

Well yes it is, because it tells us that fundamentally the idea of centralised storage, with permission based access and security backups, which are really important, are not aspects that are compromised in any way by either a local server or a cloud server.

So, what are the main differences and are they important? Essentially it all boils down to these three issues:

  • Centralised Storage
  • Permissioned Access
  • Security Backup

Centralised storage.

Again, look at the graphic below.

Centralised Storage is important for any firm to work efficiently. An on-premise server is a traditional method used. Nowadays, cloud servers provide the alternative.

For on-premise servers, the data is stored locally, backup is dependent upon your IT staff and software updates are handled manually. Updates of software are periodic and can involve downtime during working hours. The major difference is the choice of software installed. You can choose whatever software you like on your own server.

On a cloud server, data is stored at a remote datacentre with periodic updates of software. Downtime during working hours should not be an issue (if your cloud provider is using a decent data centre) but that doesn’t mean the cloud is up 24/7/365. Some backups and most software updates need all the users to be logged off – so scheduled maintenance tasks will take place at certain times in the evening and at weekends and the cloud will not be available at these times. The choice of software installed may be pre-loaded software only. So, it’s the software applications aspect that highlights a difference.

Permissioned access.

In the IT world any access to a computerised system involves a level of permission. However, let’s look at the top line first.  Access to your server in an on-premise situation means your server is up and running normally. And I accept that it usually is – but if it isn’t, you probably have access to nothing. If your Internet connection is down, then the server is running but there is no email and no access to any websites. Other applications are running so you can get along for quite some time.

In the cloud world, if your internet is down, you are down. However, the internet is all around. You can connect via different methods. Dongle, smart phone connection, wi-fi in another place – home, branch office, court, hotel, etc. You can do something to change the situation. Whereas your server can only connect to its regular connection point and it cannot be moved.

Broadband does go down in the same way that servers go down. In my experience getting broadband back up happens significantly quicker than server recovery.

Security backup.

So that leaves us with security backup. There are two sides to this. You take a security backup to safeguard yourselves in case you have to recover your data. This applies to both on-premise and to cloud, but in very different ways.

For an on-premise server, the backup is usually an overnight operation (because all the users have to be logged off) and there has to be a physical, removable medium involved. Or even a geographically removed cloud backup service.

The physical medium usually needs swapping over the morning after the overnight operation for this to work. Then, it is customary to place this in a fireproof safe or take it off site that evening. If this doesn’t happen, the backup routine is compromised.

In the cloud-based backup storage world, anything could happen and you don’t need to understand it. The key questions are –

  • Are the data files simply over written each night?
  • Is a new set of backups created each night? If so, how many iterations are retained and for how long?
  • How does the retrieval work? Importantly how would it work if there was a new (replacement) server requesting the data?
  • How long does it actually take to upload and download?

Like anything you might have to rely on in an emergency – take the time to understand it fully.

Server or cloud: which is the right choice?

Firms should look at the benefits and costs of both. At LawWare, our view is that it’s not for us to dictate; we can supply either. The LawWare software is the same. The cloud version is no different to the on-premise one. However, be aware – there are different versions of MS Office available to purchase and on the cloud. Not all versions provide the same range of functions.

Our key guidelines are:

  • If everyone in your single office location firm comes to the office to do all your work, then it’s worth considering both on-premise and the cloud. The comparative services and costs will in all likelihood be quite different.
  • For a firm with branch offices with multiple on-premise servers and dedicated tele-communication lines, you should look at the cloud (the cost savings may be substantial).
  • If you are a brand-new start-up – you definitely want to look at the cloud.
  • For a firm with elderly IT, where the cost of a total refresh is too much – then the cloud may be an option (although it isn’t often a cheap alternative).
  • If you have refreshed your IT in the last few years, then the cloud probably is not going to add that much extra benefit.
  • If your broadband is slow or unreliable or both – then the cloud is not a realistic option (although bear in mind that different broadband suppliers can offer different solutions).

That’s it from me on the subject… or rather from me and Simon Greig, LawWare’s Sales Director, who provided the majority of the advice for this article.

Mike O’Donnell, October 2017.

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