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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Michael Aginsky, CTO Of Gibbons P.C. (Part 6)

Posted on Saturday, Aug 28th 2010

By guest author Shaloo Shalini and Bhavana Sharma

One of the areas that is impacted by cloud adoption in an organization is its IT staff. Cloud computing does not necessarily lead to a need for fewer employees, but over the years, it has significantly reduced the need for additional IT staff at Gibbons P.C. The firm did not require additional IT staff over a five-year period during which its business and the number of attorneys grew significantly. SaaS is the primary mode of cloud adoption in law firms. They may be aware of advantages of adopting a private cloud to address their data security concerns but would still like to wait and watch before adopting IaaS or private cloud options.

SM: How does the adoption of cloud computing impact your IT organization in terms of planning, relationships with the vendors and the gamut of people who are part of your IT ecosystem at Gibbons P.C.?

MA: I am trying to do as much as possible through our existing vendor channels right now. If I can find that one of our vendors is reselling a solution that I would like to try at Gibbons, I go to that vendor. At Gibbons we like to have as small a pool of vendors and as few contact points as possible. I know that with the advent of cloud computing, there are a lot of these vendors out there running on their own, and that is making the vendor pool for a typical organization larger, but we are trying to keep it within our scope if we can.

We still evaluate the solution for what it is worth in terms of business fit first and hope that we can buy it through our channel to keep vendor list under control. If not, it is not a deal breaker for us one way or another.

From my IT staff point of view, cloud computing changes the support model a little. Earlier, staff members actually had to run into server rooms and physically check the server. Now, we do our own internal troubleshooting and get on the phone with the vendor or solution provider. It makes the IT staff a little more mobile. I can have a person who is at home or who unfortunately may even be on vacation troubleshoot issues, if necessary. This is because IT is no longer physically tied to our office once we make that determination.

SM: So, it is in a hosted facility.

MA: Right.

SM: Is that not a concern in terms of your data being in a hosted facility?

MA: We do go through a process with all our vendors. We look at where are these facilities located, what states are they in, and we have to look into legal implications, if any. I use our  attorneys to advise me on specifics and whether we have to be concerned about any of the vendor back-end processes. Massachusetts, for example, has very strict privacy laws. We sign with vendors who keep our data in a Massachusetts data center. We are now bound by those laws. When we work with vendors, we either look for an alternate facility or do what we can to be prepared for what those changes might bring to us in terms of risks.

SM: If a vendor came to you and offered you ultra-cheap infrastructure in China, would you go with it?

MA: We would have to see what that service offers, how critical is it to our business, and how much money it saves us. Then it would be left to the attorneys to figure out the legal issues, if there are any, such as how to protect our clients and data under the assumption that the data is located in a foreign country, be it China or another.

[Note to readers: You may want to read more on legal implications of cloud computing in terms of data location and more here and here.]

SM: What changes will there be in your internal IT staffing? Do you expect to cut the number of staff as you use more cloud computing solutions? Has the headcount remained stable while you have grown the business?

MA: We have been stable as the business has grown, and I intend to remain stable in headcount as the business continues to grow and has been growing this year.

SM: If it were not for cloud-based solutions and environment, you would have to double or triple your staff?

MA: Yes, at certain points over the past few years, we had two or three additions allowed for my staff. Five years ago, we had two offices and 80 attorneys; now, we have been able to move forward without those additional employees in IT over the past five years. Management has said that the firm is growing and you need additional staff, but we have been able to keep the same number of people by moving services around.

SM: What are your thoughts about private clouds? Could adopting private clouds be a good middle ground for the kind of objectives you are setting?

MA: Yes, they can definitely save us [money] and get around many of our issues very quickly. The cloud is new, and the private cloud concept is newer. Part of our waiting game and extending our refresh cycle is a strategy that we will adopt for private clouds as well. If that plays out sooner rather than later, we will see greater adoption of private clouds.

SM: So you can skip the public cloud and go directly to private clouds if the vendors and channels get up to speed on them, right?

MA: Yes, and that will keep our attorneys happy, our clients happy, and allow us operationally to achieve what we are trying to do with the cloud.

SM: Could you add a little bit of detail to what would be your key requirements for adoption and deployment of private cloud?

MA: To be honest, I do not know that just yet.

SM: We have talked about security to some extent. What are your thoughts about vulnerability management? Is that something you manage in-house?

MA: That is something we outsource here at Gibbons. We have a third party that manages all of our firewalls and all of our edges. We do not have any actual external interfaces anywhere in any of our offices.

SM: Is that an external vendor as in a service provider or is it a cloud vendor?

MA: It is a service provider and not a cloud vendor.

[Note to readers: The legal industry is known for its wait-and-watch approach when it comes to cloud computing, or any new technology adoption for that matter. Even Microsoft has had challenges when they it to tap this market through its cloud-based offerings. Microsoft expects that things will change with respect to its market share in legal vertical once they have its Wave 15 (the new version of Office) released. Microsoft technicians are closely working with legal firms to better understand their content management and specifically e-mail management needs. More details are here.]

This segment is part 6 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Michael Aginsky, CTO Of Gibbons P.C.
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