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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Michael Aginsky, CTO Of Gibbons P.C. (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Aug 27th 2010

By guest author Shaloo Shalini and Bhavana Sharma

In this part of the interview, Sramana and Michael discuss the cloud vendor ecosystem in the legal sector in terms of vendors, value-added resellers, (VARs), companies’ preferences in terms of vendors and pricing models. Michael also talks about the money saved by legal firms deploying cloud solutions. He thinks it will still take time time before many of the available cloud-based offerings are mature enough for the legal sector.

SM: How comfortable are you or would you be buying cloud services are offered by, say, Amazon Web Service from Amazon directly vs. buying them from any of the VARs that specialize in the legal industry and do some of the legal-industry-specific customization and provide customer service?

MA: We do work with and have always preferred to work with vendors in the legal vertical only. We will work with a vendor even if that vendor is something as simple as a reseller of the Amazon Web Services. This is because they do bring with them knowledge of the legal industry and insights into what other firms – our peers – are doing. Everything is a competition, so we want to know how other people are using the services and what they have been able to do with them. As the cloud takes off, I more and more people will turn to the self-service model, especially because it is something new and some companies are trying to gain a competitive edge and start working without the vendors.

SM: There are some horizontal applications such as Yousendit, an application for large file transfer with quite a bit of security built-in. This is a very horizontal service. Everyone from the media industry, including me, uses that kind of service to move interview files around.

MA: Yes, I am aware of such horizontal applications. There are plenty of law firms out there that use it, too. There are a few competitors to the products. We have an application, but it is not Yousendit. It looks very like a similar product. Our application allows us to host such a service on our servers internally and also gives us control at much lower cost. Even though Yousendit has done all the security, they are still a risk and at some point, is a target for sort of hack that could expose their user information and the documents that are stored on that system.

We prefer to bring that solution in-house behind a firewall so that we know if we put a document in the cloud to transfer it to our clients, then that is within our system. In case we have a security issue and I am concerned about it, I have the choice to shut that system down if I need to. Whereas with Yousendit, I do not have any control. If a breach happens with a service such as Yousendit, we will most likely be notified after the breach. That is a culture thing that it varies from law firm to law firm. At Gibbons, I could probably make the case for Yousendit here as a monthly expense for the firm to use. But we just managed a cheaper offering over which we have more control and that makes more sense for Gibbons.

SM: It sounds like you found a vendor that is willing to give you that application to install within your own system. Is that happening across the legal universe? There are a lot of IT solution providers that offer both models today – the traditional license software model and the cloud model.

MA: That is definitely happening. Where there used to be one or two options or subscription or license model, now we have subscription, license, hosted, and many others.

SM: What kind of cost savings do you foresee by adopting cloud computing for the next five or ten years?

MA: If you look upfront right of the path, I think a lot of today’s savings are in terms of staffing costs and in employee’s time and staff reduction. For us to be able to provide the same level of service to the firm by supporting, say, fewer servers, less hardware, and so forth, that is where savings come from. My staff costs have not changed in six years, whereas the business in firms has grown and we are trying to do more with less, passing on the savings to our clients by keeping our rates as close to where they have been in the past few years. We are trying to minimize expenses and keep business growing and affordable for everyone.

SM: Based on your estimate of utilization rates and patterns, do you see cloud-based solutions, particularly infrastructure as a service (IaaS), as a partial replacement or as complement to your existing IT infrastructure?

MA: We try not to unless there is a business case. We are aware that it is not necessary in some cases, and in others it is not practical for us. If we choose one of the business cases, say if we are using Dell Message One for e-mail continuity service, then we are keeping a certain amount of e-mail in an archive on Dell’s servers, but that serves as a business case. That is the case where we have to use their service to fall back on them. People need a little bit of their recent e-mail to get back on, say after an outage and pick up conversations with clients. We can’t just wipe their inboxes clean and start over when we are running in disaster recovery mode. So, in instances like that we have a strong business case we do put data in the cloud. Not otherwise.

SM: But you would not put your archive system on the cloud.

MA: We have not done it as yet. Yes, our e-mail archive we maintain in-house. There is a relatively cost-effective solution to deal with because our existing spam provider offers it as an add-on service. We haven’t gone that route yet we are trying to just run the course of the capital investments that we have made already before we would be ready to consider replacing that with cloud based offerings.

SM: With respect to moving workloads to the cloud, when you evaluate a decision, at what point does the refresh cycle come up? There seems to be a considerable amount of cost savings you can reap from using cloud-based architecture.

MA: Yes, there are potential cost savings with the cloud. Right now, we have several miscellaneous third-tier or peripheral workloads running in the cloud. These are some of the core IT services and applications such as spam filtering and Web filtering, or they are third-tier user applications that are not in the primary line of business. As we begin to migrate to the second tier, such as e-mail archiving, we will probably get closer to that refresh cycle point. Right now, we are doing our best and trying to do it with what we have already set up.

We are stretching it a little bit longer and giving these solutions a bit more time to mature. Cloud services may be better to have in terms of computing, and I think they are taking off. But they have a long way to go. In the near future they will become much more viable. If we can hold on that decision a little longer, it will be in our best interest. A lot of them are not ready for us yet.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Michael Aginsky, CTO Of Gibbons P.C.
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