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Ascertus Technical Blog

A private Hosted System Provides a Great Test Environment Too?

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The benefits of privately hosted systems are many – ability to scale up or down, technical support, cost-effectiveness and business continuity.  I’ll steer clear of using the term ‘cloud based’ because it’s become a highly emotive and suspiciously regarded term by the legal market.  


However, there’s commercial merit in using a hosted systems supplier, not necessarily for production systems’ environments, but as a suitable, alternative solution for non-production environments, such as test, development, archive and training.  By selectively locating these ‘other’ server environments on to a hosted platform; and outsourcing the maintenance of business solutions (i.e. document management, CRM, practice management, etc.) to an external, securely administered platform of remote data centres (e.g. Microsoft Azure) – law firms can reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Surprisingly, implementing a hybrid approach to using discrete hosted systems is currently a little used strategy.  The benefits are several, for instance, it offers a cost-effective approach to development and testing of software for both major and incremental upgrades. It allows firm’s to adopt a need-based methodology to resourcing development and testing platforms, regardless of whether the exercise is being undertaken in-house or by third party developers. For instance, to upgrade to or test new code in a document management system, the IT department may require a test/development environment that is a complete replication (same processor power, memory and disk capacity) of the firm’s entire production network for only a fraction of the time. So rather than investing in dedicated test and development hardware that potentially gathers dust for the majority of time, a privately hosted environment can provide the necessary resources exactly when needed; and crucially, the firm only pays for capacity that the IT team in fact uses.

Instead of incurring capital expenditure on underutilised server hardware, test and development environments can be maintained under a ‘pay as you go’ operational budget. There is no upfront purchase cost and the technology does not depreciate in value. Importantly, the savings and efficiency gains made by the firm through adopting a private hosted approach for selective environments can be appropriately passed on to other more business critical projects.

a privately hosted environment can provide the necessary resources exactly when needed; and crucially, the firm only pays for capacity that the IT team in fact uses.

Some law firms are – in my view – making the mistake of entirely discounting using private hosted solutions, not just for document management systems, but for other firm-wide systems too.  Firms will do well to investigate private hosted technology systems as part of an integrated larger business strategy.  A private hosted environment can be complementary to on-premise deployments – i.e. a private hosted environment for test and development, business continuity, disaster recovery and select technology systems; but on-premise infrastructure for practice and case management systems to allay any potential concerns that some law firm customers may have.

Law firms cannot afford to delay updates to business critical applications.

Taking this approach can also help with ensuring that law firms upgrade to latest software versions in a timely manner. By way of an example, with the Microsoft Windows 2003 Server and SQL Server 2005 now unsupported by Microsoft, many law firms are currently being forced to upgrade various systems, including iManage Work (formerly HP Worksite) – irrespective of whether the time is right from a business standpoint. A private hosted solution as well as test and development environment outside the firewall provides resources in parallel, which is less disruptive to business.

In today’s larger business environment where IT underpins law firms and their customers, the pace of technological change is rapid. Law firms cannot afford to delay updates to business critical applications. Hence, the virtue in a carefully structured, two-pronged privately hosted and on-premise technology systems strategy.

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SaaS vs. Hosted – the debate rages on!

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Cloud computing is gathering momentum in the legal sector – organisations can’t ignore the benefits of low costs and flexibility offered by this technology. From talking to firms, for many the toss up is between Software as a Service (SaaS) and Hosted models of cloud computing. Both cloud computing standards have valid reasons to exist of course, but firms should carefully evaluate the merits of each and suitability to their needs before committing to either model.


Let’s look at the fundamentals.

SaaS systems are based on a ‘multi-tenancy’ environment whereby a single instance of the software runs on a server (which could be located in any jurisdiction in the world) and serves multiple tenants/users.  So by their nature, multi-tenancy systems require the software to be shared across all users of the system, who connect via the same front end, but the embedded business logic allows individuals to see only their own data.  Potentially, there are security and data protection issues to be wary of.  You as a firm are beholden to your software provider for the state of your technology – i.e. the software provider decides when to upgrade the system (regardless of whether the timing is right for your firm) – as the software upgrade is designed to occur for all users simultaneously.

ensure that you always retain the option to change your cloud service provider or even move to an on-premises solution, should the business need arise

On the other hand, Hosted solutions, (also called ‘multi-instance’ architectures), operate software installations individually for each firm, giving each organisation its own instance of software.  You have the choice and flexibility to run on a version of software that’s right for your firm at any point in time.  You can also decide the level of support and business continuity required and as you also ‘own’ the software installation – so you have full control over your data, your documents and their accessibility.  The solution is fully scalable – up or down.  The hosted model is quite simply a method for outsourcing your systems in an externally managed data centre rather than your own.  This for many Professional Services businesses is more acceptable to clients, than the thought of their data being stored in a shared SaaS environment.

Another area worth exploring is the capability offered by both models for offline working

When assessing such solutions, think about the future too.  Ensure that you always retain the option to change your cloud service provider or even move to an on-premises solution, should the business need arise.  This requires determining how you can get access to data and how quickly, which is generally simpler with a hosted solution.Another area worth exploring is the capability offered by both models for offline working. Most hosted solutions enable the system to manage the connectivity, but if a SaaS solution is your preference, ensure you understand from your service provider the options available in the event of the system being unavailable.

There have been some high profile instances recently when SaaS solutions have failed, leaving end users without access to their systems.These are only some of the issues that you should be mindful of.  The crux is – whatever model you chose, ensure that it is the right one for your business, that it is secure and complies with all the statutory data protection regulations and that it offers you the flexibility to easily change course, should you need to in the future.

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