Every couple of years and applying Moore’s Law, with increasing frequency one of the giants of the tech industry (or their marketing teams) come up with a sexy sounding buzzword or acronym. Very quickly, the latest buzzword will then burn a blazing trail through the tech media, the general press and everyone and their parrot. Before you can say “buzz”, the buzzword is being used without anyone outside a limited circle having the foggiest idea of what it actually means (and feeling slightly embarrassed because everyone else seems to know). A classic case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Examples are “cloud”, “AI”, “flexible/agile/smart” working, “digital transformation”, “digital disruption” and heaven help us, “innovation”. Fuzzy terms, unless we stop to define what we actually mean. As importantly, what it means for us, our sector (law firms and law firm technology) and our own practices.

HEALTH WARNING – anyone with a technology background: read-on at your own peril but you are not allowed to sneer at our simplistic take on the impenetrable acronyms and fuzzy concepts and jargon that all technologists thrive on.

Many of you – particularly if you are charged with IT governance, or if you have an interest in technology will already be familiar with some, if not all of the buzzwords and concepts. However, while some of you may have an interest, you may not be quite sure where to start in disentangling the web of confusing concepts. This is but a modest attempt to translate the buzzwords and myths into practical, meaningful reality. Tech-literati – please forgive us our non-geeky approach.

Over the next few weeks, in a tongue in cheek, light-hearted, Friday-afternoonish sort of way we will in all modesty offer you a strictly non-technical overview of the buzzwords – and what they really mean for your firm.

“CLOUD” The mother of all buzzwords ?

By now even the most hardline of technophobes – bombarded as they have been – will have cottoned on to the fact that “cloud” does not necessarily mean those fluffy white (or even the dark grey, ominous) apparitions in the sky. The “oldest” of the buzzwords, it goes back at least 10 or 12 years. “Cloud” covers a multitude of concepts and technologies, some of which have been around for a long – a very long time (in technology terms).

The “Cloud” subject is itself an area of extreme buzzword activity. “Cloud” buzzwords doing the rounds are “private cloud”, “public cloud”, “hybrid cloud”, “cloud ready”, “cloud first”, “IaaS”, “SaaS”, “PaaS” and my personal favourite, “multi-cloud”…. The list is seemingly endless.

In this week’s informational we will set the scene, and provide some historical context and canter through one of the frequently used sub-buzzwords.

“Private Cloud” “Private cloud” is where IT systems are delivered from a “Cloud” based infrastructure which is dedicated for the use of a single organisation, usually in a remote data centre or 3rd party infrastructure provider. “Private cloud” is also sometimes referred to as “Co-Location”

A private cloud is usually (but not always) managed via internal IT Personnel.

“Private Cloud” was most firms’ tentative step on their Journey to the Cloud (another buzz saying). In most cases this was as simple as moving existing infrastructure from internal server rooms into rented “rack space” in a data centre.

History

Consolidate & Host Yourself

Some would argue that the first manifestation of “private cloud” happened when firms started to implement the virtualisation of servers/ infrastructure. Virtualisation of servers is where multiple servers run on one or several, consolidated large host server(s) and therefore provides scalability, flexibility and an overall reduced number of physical servers.

This practice took a big leap forward in around 2006/ 2007 (even though the technology had been around for much longer than that) with many mid-market firms implementing the strategy.

The approach effectively “decoupled” the system itself from the underlying hardware – a server exists as a digital image, rather than a physical box. This then became the first generation of the “private cloud” – and it is still a viable option used by several firms. What has changed however, is that whereas the old school “self-created & hosted private cloud” typically resided in a server room, on the premises of the law firm using it, it now resides in a third party datacentre.

Lift and Shift

It did not take long for organisations to realise the risks and hidden costs of self-hosting “private cloud” and therefore the advantages of moving their infrastructure “somewhere else” i.e. into someone else’s datacentre, particularly when communication links became cheaper and far more robust.

It is this secondary stage solution which has become the current definition of “Private Cloud”.

Advantages of hosted “Private Cloud”

  1. It frees up valuable and expensive office space. This can be an important consideration, particularly in major business districts where lawyers typically operate from
  2. It makes office relocations much less stressful and considerably reduces risk if you don’t have to move your physical infrastructure. Simply ensure that the communications links to the new premises operate perfectly – and Bob’s your uncle!
  3. The environmental infrastructure in a Datacentre will undoubtedly be far better than any single organisation can achieve on its own premises. Think cooling, physical security, tapping into multiple power grids (not having to worry about Uninterrupted Power Supply, standby batteries, water leaks, etc)
  4. It will probably make it far easier, in many instances, to open new offices. Provided the comms links are there (usually easier to achieve with a Datacentre) the new office can simply connect to a central system.
  5. Your Datacentre provider should guarantee four or five 9’s (the holy grail) uptime (i.e. 99.999% uptime) which is simply unachievable as an affordable objective for most firms who are self-hosting

Disadvantages

Compared with traditional self-hosted, multiple server environments there really are not many and when assessed those disadvantages are normally significantly outweighed by the advantages.

  1. The solution will require more network capability
  2. There may be a slight uplift in overall cost, but this is a question for the bean counters.
  3. Getting the contractual elements correct is crucial. It is essential that the contract is robustly negotiated, with substantial financial penalties in the case of breach of the SLA (Service Level Agreement) and that there is a clearly defined exit strategy (what if you want to move Datacentres, what if the provider goes bust…)

Summary

In the real world, in many instances, “Private Cloud” has become a no brainer as a first step in the “journey to the Cloud”. However, that position is changing as evolving solutions such as Platform as a Service (PaaS) is beginning to challenge this approach.

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