Documents in the Clouds

I spend a large amount of time and money each year worrying about “backing up” my data files.  Years ago, I decided to centralize all my files on a File Server.  A peer-to-peer network was good for distributing processing, but a disaster when you are like me, working on multiple PC’s. I do that so that I can test software on different environments.  Once I decided on a central file server (realize the decision was not rocket science), the issue came on appropriate backup routines.  I tried tape cartridges, but most were too slow and too small.  I currently am working with a RAID-V server array, removable hard-drive backup, combined with MozyPro.  The system works, but is not ideal. The hard-drive backups are not swapped often enough; MozyPro took forever to get all my data, and afterwords, is quite slow on the restores.  And so, I am now looking into a “cloud” solution, in particular NetDocuments.

There is a distinction between “backup” and “DMS”. A backup is an archive of your documents that is stored in a batch process, in a compressed fashion.  A good backup solution allows you to have multiple versions of your documents (the “way back machine”) even where you did not consciously make versions of a particular document.  That feature is one of its strengths when “disaster strikes” to an individual document, the inadvertent deletion of a large portion of a document, such as would be otherwise irretrievable.  In examining a “cloud-based” DMS, I am not “dissing” the value of a “file-server” solution.  Given sufficient resources, time, hardware, and money, you will be able to set up and configure a Document Management System that is safe, secure, fast, efficient and well indexed.  There are a number of well-proven DMS technologies, including iManage, DocsOpen, and Worldox.  There are also DMS components available in several Practice Management solutions, including Time Matters, Amicus Attorney, and PracticeMaster.

However, indications that a “cloud based” DMS might be an alternate arise in a few areas:

  1. A small law firm that does not have a full-time IT person or a robust server architecture.  In this case, the costs of server configuration, backups, and maintenance, may be such that no current DMS solution exists.  Costs in terms of lost documents, document corruption and lost billable time when trying to “find documents” need to be measured.  Setting up a “cloud based” DMS adds a level of organization, security, and inherit backup.
  2. A small to midsize firm may wish to share documents with its clients, giving them effective access to their files.  In such a situation, setting up a “portal” may be too expensive and difficult to maintain, and the “email attachment” game may be too confusing.  With a cloud-based DMS, client access on a matter level is a matter of setting up a use and giving them access to the matter files.
  3. A large firm may have offices in multiple locations.  In this case, document may exist in “islands” across the different offices.  While you can search across “islands” searches by default don’t do that, often for speed issues. Grabbing documents across the firm’s VPN can be intolerably slow. By contract, a cloud based DMS would have the entire firm’s documents online.  Access speed would be a matter of speed of internet connections.

Now I am beginning my exploration of cloud-based DMS.  For years, my needs have been met by Time Matters document profiles and a File Server.  Recently, I found myself in France (on holiday) and my server’s internet connection went down.  I was working “remote”, and the server was still working, but I was effectively cutoff from all my files. It was a fluke “brownout” in my office that took our the router.  While the router should be “restarted”, it didn’t trigger my modem, so the whole network was effectively offline. If I had a cloud based DMS, that would never have happened.