When it comes to cloud computing, providers tend to harp on the idea of mind-blowing cost savings in their promotional material. In fact, this notion has saturated the IT landscape to the point where many firms will reflexively equate “cloud” with “cheap,” even if they’ve never actively explored a cloud solution.
We hear it over and over again from both prospective clients and current clients that are considering a cloud migration: Won’t the cloud save our firm money?
It’s the logical question to ask, but it’s not generally a simple one to answer; the fact of the matter is that while consumers will almost always see savings with cloud-based services, the question becomes a lot more complicated when it comes to a larger entity like a law firm. Still, this is a topic that we are more than happy to explore in-depth.
Below we’ll walk through the main components of a cloud computing environment, along with whether or not that model will likely end up saving your law firm money in the short and long term.
Key elements of a cloud computing model
To help paint the picture of how a cloud computing model differs from a traditional on-site scenario, here’s a look at some of the key components:
- Limited infrastructure. With a fully-hosted solution, you won’t need servers on-site; instead, you’ll be relying on servers in your provider’s datacenter, which you’ll tap into by way of an Internet connection. Even if you have a DMS that requires multiple physical servers, or a time and billing application that requires significant computing power, a good provider will be able to build you dedicated virtual servers that will wrap your unique software needs into your cloud solution. Some providers will also offer “thin clients,” or low-powered computers, to replace your desktop workstations. You’ll still need things like switches and a firewall at your offices, but the vast majority of your hardware burden will be supplanted.
- Enhanced physical and technical protection. A solid cloud solution will place your network within a far more advanced environment than you would feasibly be able to maintain within your own offices. We’re talking a datacenter that is equipped with retina scanners, man traps, locked server cages, 24/7 staffing, elevated flooring to optimize temperature control, redundant power, redundant Internet, and so on. This is not to mention the actual technology behind your cloud environment, which will be constructed with its own patching and monitoring, failovers, redundant data storage, disaster recovery capabilities, and regular pre-scheduled maintenance.
- Usage-based pricing. Generally, cloud providers will deliver a full desktop experience to your attorneys and staff on a per-user basis. There will be a one-time investment for your migration project, but from then on you will be looking at an ongoing operational expense that will account for all of your IT-related needs in a fairly predictable package. This kind of pricing model also means that as your firm scales, your monthly investment will scale with it.
Will the cloud save your law firm money?
With all of the above elements in mind, will your firm end up saving money by opting for a cloud solution? In the short term, probably not. In the long term, most likely. Here’s why:
- You will pay a premium for the enhanced features. Since your cloud provider is shouldering the maintenance, backup, and replacement burden for your network, the costs associated with all of this upkeep will be wrapped into your ongoing fees. This means that your firm probably won’t see a drastic decrease in your monthly investment; on average, a hosted/virtual desktop will run you close to $200 per person for a high-quality product. For the majority of firms that we’ve worked with, the total costs end up being comparable to that of supporting an on-site network.
- Your capital expenses are going to take a nose-dive. You’ll never have to worry about server failure again. You won’t need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade your servers, and you might even get away with never having to buy desktop workstations. Depending on your workstation replacement cycle, this could be another 5-figure expense to eliminate altogether. This frees up all of that capital for other initiatives your firm is pursuing, and also eliminates the administrative burden of planning and executing those projects.
As you can see, it will take a bit of digging (and probably several years) to uncover any significant cost savings for your law firm.
In fact, most firms we’ve worked with will end up choosing a cloud solution for the mobility, uptime, security, and disaster recovery capabilities—not because they can cut their invoice in half. That, and they simply don’t want to have to worry about maintaining their own infrastructure anymore.
So if you are investigating a cloud solution for your firm, we do encourage you to put together a long-term cost projection that compares a cloud scenario to a traditional in-house scenario over the course of a few years. (Our firm generates this sort of comparison as a standard part of our cloud proposals.)
But don’t forget to also take a good hard look at what it is you’re actually getting out of your cloud solution. In many cases, the benefits will far outweigh the costs regardless.