Covid-19 lockdowns and the changing pace of tech have forced many New Zealand firms to consider switching to Cloud-based technologies much sooner than they might have otherwise expected. We keep hearing that it’s the way of the future, but what actually is “the cloud?” How can you find the right solution for your firm? If you find this technology confusing, we’ve written this “Cloud 101” to help you make educated decisions – and hold your end of the conversation with your IT provider.
What is “the cloud?”
Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services over the internet. This includes servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence – all provided via the same platform that brings you Facebook, Netflix and Zoom (ah, our new best friend Zoom). When your software is in “the cloud,” you are using a platform owned by a provider such as Microsoft or Amazon, and your data is transferred to and from that platform via the internet.
Why is the cloud so important?
The cloud offers faster innovation, more flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping you lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business changes without investing in hardware with a finite lifespan.
It also allows you to work more flexibly – you can access your data anywhere you have an internet connection – (even via your mobile phone), without the need to set up anything extra like a VPN (virtual private network).
What is the difference between public and private cloud?
The “public cloud” is what most people mean when they refer to the cloud. It is defined as computing services offered by third-party providers over the public internet, making them available to anyone who wants to use or purchase them. “Private cloud” is similar to public cloud but is not offered to the general public, and is often monetised differently. You may also hear about “hybrid cloud,” which can be a mix of both.
Who controls the public cloud?
Most of the big computing companies offer public cloud solutions. By far the largest are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Alibaba and Google Cloud (AWS holds more than 40% global market share). Other companies such as Apple, IBM, HP, Oracle and Salesforce also offer public cloud services that are often specific to their business offerings (e.g. Apple iCloud services).
Where is the cloud?
Most cloud services are located offshore from New Zealand. The largest cloud providers; AWS, Google, Apple and Microsoft operate out of the East Coast of Australia. However, Microsoft has announced that it is building a data centre in New Zealand ready sometime in 2023-2024.
What are the benefits of moving to cloud-based software?
The benefits are many and varied. Cloud platforms remove the need for private server infrastructure and the accompanied cost and hassle. Moving to cloud-based software is a significant step in any firms’ plan to modernise and future-proof. It is by far the top development firms ask us for, and is forefront of everyone’s minds.
Is my data secure in the cloud?
Data security should be one of your key decision factors, as not all cloud systems are created equally. The big players invest heavily in creating a secure foundation across physical, infrastructure, and operational security. Microsoft, for example, invests over a billion dollars every year into security, so that your data and business assets can be protected.
There can be additional security from your software provider. OneLaw uses the same technology as online banking systems to secure communications between your PC and the cloud. We have also added two-factor authentication (2FA) for those clients who want it.
How does remote access work with the cloud?
Most people considering moving to the cloud post-2020 have one key thing in mind: remote access. You want to be able to take your laptop and work from home, from court, out meeting clients – even overseas (remember “overseas?”). When you’re looking for cloud-based software, you will have two options: browser or app-based. These are essentially the same delivery platform (your data is still being stored and transferred via the internet), however there is one key difference: your user experience.
Some cloud systems (such as Xero) operate within your web browser. This means you can log in on any device, anytime using your web browser to connect to the cloud service.
OneLaw will operate using its own “app”, installed on your PC. This can offer a better user experience for more complex software. You simply log into the app on your device, from anywhere you have an internet connection and the OneLaw cloud service works out the rest.
Does moving to the cloud mean my software will work faster?
It depends. There are two key factors that will determine the speed your software operates at: Internet connection and cloud setup.
Firstly, the cloud platform you choose is partially reliant on your internet connection. Make sure you are set up with the highest-speed internet available to you.
Then there’s the cloud setup. Let’s look at OneLaw’s cloud platform, for instance. All of the heavy processing work is done by our cloud servers, and because of the way the cloud works we can massively scale our back-end operations on demand. Our cloud services will initially operate from east coast Australia. New Zealand has multiple fibre links across the Tasman and up into the Pacific. Most day-to-day tasks transfer very little data between you and the back-end servers. There are some tasks, such as printing reports, that do send more data – these need to be optimised for cloud operation.
How do you get cloud set up?
This depends if your current software provider offers a cloud option. Ask your provider, or shop around.
At OneLaw, we provide a one-click link for you to download our client software to any PC. Setup and installation is a very simple process, for both new and existing customers.
What about our firm’s data sovereignty?
The term ‘data sovereignty’ is interchangeable with the term ‘jurisdictional risks’, which means that your cloud provider is subject to the laws of the country from which they operate. Each cloud customer should do their own risk assessment of their cloud provider in this respect.
We consider there to be a relatively low sovereignty risk with a US multinational (such as Microsoft, AWS or Google) operating a subsidiary service from Australia or New Zealand.
How do backups and restores work?
All major cloud platform providers have built-in backup and restore services. These range from restoring a single document to restoring an entire system back to a snapshot in time. One of the major benefits of Microsoft Azure, for example, is the ability to use other global regions to host near real-time copies of your entire system. You can choose to host a copy of your firm’s system in another Azure region such as the US or Singapore for disaster recovery (this does add some extra cost to your subscription). It will come down to your individual setup and subscription on what backup options you have.
How does my IT provider fit into the equation?
Moving to the cloud doesn’t mean you don’t need the services of an IT provider or integrator. Sure, they may not need to look after an in-house server, but they are still responsible for keeping the computers, printers and network in your office operational and secure. There may be other systems you use, such as digital dictation, which cannot easily move to the cloud. Your IT provider should be the first point of contact when planning to move to the cloud.
Can we move back to our own server if we want to?
The ease with which this can be done depends on the architecture of your cloud service.
Imagine your database (including information and document collection) is “luggage.” If your system is multi-tenanted, it’s like you’ve been forced to put all of your belongings in one single large suitcase along with everyone else’s on a family holiday. If you decide to part ways, it’s difficult – your belongings are mixed up with everyone else’s, and you don’t have your own suitcase.
With OneLaw you can, because we single-tenant or “containerise” your system, so you have your own instance of OneLaw. Single-tenanting means you have your own “suitcase,” and you can move freely if you wish. This further reduces data sovereignty risk and allows for operational independence. For example, when a OneLaw software upgrade becomes available you can choose when the upgrade is applied to your system, all OneLaw clients aren’t forced to upgrade at the same time.
We are going to run a webinar on demystifying the cloud in early May. If you are interested in this free event, send us an enquiry via our website, www.onelaw.co.nz