Everything You Need to Know about the Cloud

Cloud-based technology, services, and solutions have entered the mainstream and are quickly becoming the new normal. No longer just a buzzword or a passing technology trend, recent research indicates that 90% of companies (across all sectors) are “on the Cloud” in some capacity. The same study shows that 60% of workloads are making use of “some kind of cloud hosted service”, and this number is up from 45% just a year ago.

In a previous post, we touched on what the Cloud is and its many benefits – especially for the busy law practice. In this post, we’re going to dig a little deeper and show you how (and why) cloud-technology has become a permanent part our daily lives. We’re going to look at the nitty-gritty of how the Cloud works, its different flavours, and what the point of the whole thing is.

Cloud-based technology is the new normal

There’s a good chance that you have already used the Cloud at least once today. Done some banking? Checked your Gmail or Hotmail? Watched some YouTube or Netflix? Liked something on Facebook or read a post on Twitter? All of these a cloud-based application, service or technology.

Cloud computing uses the ever-increasing power of the internet and internet-connected devices (such as your smartphone) to do things you would previously have done on a computer sitting in your office. Everything from safely storing files and syncing them to multiple devices to intensive data processing can now be done remotely by fast, secure, interconnected machines located far from you. The Cloud got its name (for better or worse) from a diagram illustrating how devices connect to this “cloud” of powerful, remotely located machines.

The remotely located machines that make up the Cloud are just a bunch of linked-up, powerful computer servers. They have the ability to handle far more storage and processing than your old personal computer could. These collections of servers are called data centers. When you watch Netflix, your Netflix application (or browser) connects to one of these servers and streams the movie you want to your computer, TV or iPad. That’s cloud computing in a nutshell.

Below is a picture of what a data centre looks like (from an interesting article detailing how Netflix works). This is “the Cloud” in all its glory. Not very exciting to actually look at, is it?

The Cloud comes in different flavours

To dig a little deeper, the terms “cloud” and “cloud computing” are catchall terms for different categories of internet hosted technologies and services. Most cloud services fall into one of three buckets: Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is where huge companies like Google or Amazon rent out cloud computing and storage power (like that data center above) to other companies. Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a model that lets developers create and test new applications. Software as a Service (SaaS) – which is the most common and essential for us to understand – is when applications (software) are accessible via a web browser or app over the internet.

The SaaS model (also known as on-demand software or web-based software) continues to grow across the business world and, as we’ll explore below, for good reason. The functionality and convenience these cloud-based services offer have improved the way many companies do business. Let’s look at some leading examples.

Popular cloud applications for business

Office and business productivity are some of the most popular and widely used cloud-based software. The ease of creating, editing, and sharing a document, spreadsheet or presentation from any PC, Mac, iOS, Android or Windows device in real-time has changed the way many do their work. The big players here are Microsoft with their Office 365, which brings Word, Excel and PowerPoint to the Cloud, and Google with their G Suite of productivity apps, email, video meetings, and cloud-based document storage (to name a few).

One of the most prominent (and original) Software as a Service business applications is Salesforce.com. This customer relationship management platform lets businesses manage customer information and has become the backbone of many sales-driven organizations. It’s thought that more than 80% of Fortune 500 companies use Salesforce, which, like all these examples, is accessed by an app or browser and is remotely hosted on the Cloud. There’s no software installed locally on your computer.

Another popular SaaS application you may have heard of is Dropbox. This cloud-hosted document storage and sharing solution lets any file (documents, photos, etc.) be added to a virtual Dropbox and automatically sync across all your desktop and mobile devices. It’s become a very popular way for professionals to securely and conveniently share files.

Another critical business function that has made a move to the Cloud is electronic signatures. DocuSign is leading in signature technology and transaction management services and lets customers exchange digital contracts and “e-signed” documents over the Cloud.

So, what’s the point of moving to the Cloud?

Now that we’ve shed a little more light on the Cloud and looked at some popular examples, it’s fair to ask, what’s the point of all this? You could argue that traditional software solutions installed on computer hard drives that sit right there in your office worked pretty well for years. Why change?

Three main things are driving the near universal move to the Cloud. Anytime, anywhere access to applications and your data is a major factor. Modern computers, tablets and phones connected to the internet with fast connections (both wired and unwired) have the horsepower to access the Cloud from almost anywhere. The flexibility, convenience, and efficiency of getting things done without the need to be tied to a physical location have sparked a whole new generation of workers who work remotely. And for those of us in office environments, the ability to have our work portable and accessible from home, or to be able to check something quickly at any time of the day, is a great for productivity.

Data security is the second factor driving the growth of the Cloud. Data security and privacy are paramount in legal environments and historically have been a factor in practices being reticent to move their business to the Cloud. But in 2020, Cloud migration isn’t a security trade-off. The scale of cloud services means that the multi-billion-dollar companies like Amazon and Apple, who in many instances, provide the “backbone of the Cloud”, can create top-notch security and multilayered defence mechanisms, that others can’t afford. The standards of encryption and multi-factor identification trickle down to all leading cloud services and now provide better data security than any password on a local personal computer ever did.

The last big thing driving the move to the Cloud are decreased IT costs and complexity. Businesses of all sizes no longer need to be IT experts to reap the benefits of high- value applications and platforms. The vendor that provides and hosts the application is responsible for its updates, maintenance, security, back-ups, disaster recovery, ensuring it works on every device, and so on. Users simply log in, authenticate and get to work.

The Cloud is ready for legal practices

Cloud-based solutions have been around for quite some time now and have matured to the point where they are mainstream and ubiquitous. Cloud apps are continuously improving and with the arrival of high-security protocols and privacy protections, they meet the demanding standards of the busy law practice. Unity® is our cloud-based practice management platform based on the award-winning functionality contained in The Conveyancer®. Like the best SaaS solutions, Unity offers the flexibility of anywhere anytime access, bank-grade security and enhanced data protections and is always up to date. Unity lets you focus on law, and smoothly run your practice while freeing you from IT headaches. Log into Unity with a recommended browser and get to work on your matters – no matter where you are.

To learn more about Unity and how the power of this modern cloud-based platform can help your firm work more efficiently, visit doprocess.com/unity today.