I’ve noticed a trend lately.
A trend in jargon, and how its used.
That term: “hybrid cloud.”
Let me take a step back. With the advent of cloud computing, a lot of terminology entered the lexicon. Some of this terminology is (more or less) concrete, with definitions that everyone agrees on. Others are close to buzzwords or jargon with ill-defined (out outright misleading) definitions.
Public and Private Cloud
The term public cloud means, generally, using the data centers and computing resources of a large company (such as Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon’s AWS, or Google’s Compute) instead of buying and managing your own servers. These public clouds are so-called because, while generally secure, all customers that use the service are sharing the same servers, disks, and other resources as the other clients on the platform.
Public clouds are typically used by software companies, who need a home for their cloud-based/web-based software and don’t want to be bothered with building and managing their own server infrastructure. Public clouds are also used by some IT consultants who want to move their clients to the cloud but do it in a way where they can control and manage the servers, to some degree. (Which, for most law firms, is a bad idea due to the lack of control the IT consultant really has on the data center and servers.)
This shared environment (sometimes called a multi-tenant environment) is not a good fit for many types or organizations, including and especially law firms. Law firms often store and manage a significant amount of sensitive data, so the shared nature of a public cloud is often not a good fit.
Which led to the creation of a private cloud. Like a public cloud, a private cloud is hosted in a third-party data center, so that the customer (a law firm, for example) doesn’t need to buy servers and deal with managing an IT infrastructure. However, unlike public clouds, with a private cloud the user (law firm) has their own private, segregated space within the cloud provider’s environment. This usually means their own private server, their own private virtual network and private Active Directory (the database that controls who can and who cannot access your firm’s cloud and data).
Both types of cloud services have their place and uses. And both are generally real terms that describe a real thing.
Then came the introduction of the term hybrid cloud.
Ostensibly, a hybrid cloud is a solution where a business, such as a law firm, is partially in the cloud, and partially on-premise, with onsite servers. It’s pitched by many local IT firms as a “safe” way to “gently ease into the cloud, without diving in head-first.”
And its nonsense.
To explain why, first let me provide a brief history on the relationship between local IT consultants and cloud computing. Prior to cloud solutions, such as private clouds, becoming mainstream for law firms, the world looked something like this:
Your law firm needs software to manage it cases, calendars, billing and so forth. That software necessitated a server. So you bought a server from your local IT consultant or Managed IT provider and implemented it.
But that server needs maintenance, updates, security and backups… so you retain the same IT consultant or company to proactively manage and maintain the server, which they do for an hourly or month fee. (And, if your firm owns servers, you absolutely should retain an IT professional to proactively manage and maintain your server and IT infrastructure.)
Then, cloud computing came along. For many law firms, the private cloud model is a breath of fresh air. No servers to buy, manage and maintain. No IT headaches that create downtime, drama and the need to call in the IT team to fix things when they break. More mobility, security and often less total IT costs.
But guess who the private cloud model isn’t good for? You guessed it: Your IT consultant.
If your law firm eliminates its on-premise server, there’s nothing for them to maintain and a whole lot less for them to do. It means they’ll lose a significant amount of business.
At first, some less-then-sincere IT consultants would pray on their client’s fear and lack of knowledge, telling them that “the cloud isn’t secure,” or “the cloud is new/untested,” which, to a demographic that’s hard-wired to look to precedent, sounds very intimidating.
This approach didn’t work forever, though. As cloud became more mainstream, more and more savvy law firms became skeptical of these claims (as they should be). So some less-than-honorable IT consultants shifted their self-preservation strategy.
They’d say: “Don’t move to the cloud whole-hog. Instead… take baby steps… with a hybrid cloud.”
How Hybrid Clouds are Described
When someone, perhaps an IT consultant looking to save as much business as he or she can, describes a hybrid cloud, they’re likely to pitch it as:
- Some of your technology moves to the cloud, while other aspects remain on-premise (necessitating that at least one server remain onsite).
- This allows you to “get the benefits of the cloud, in a safe, measured way.”
- Your firm can “take baby steps” when moving to the cloud (which may still seem like a scary unknown to a law firm).
What Hybrid Cloud Really Means
When you cut through the jargon and really look at the core of what’s being proposed, you’re likely to find that it is:
- You keep your on-premise servers (or buy new ones).
- Your main file system and core software applications stay on your onsite servers.
- One small element of your technology is moved to a hosted solution, such as:
- Your email is moved to Office 365, or
- Your IT consultant adds a cloud-based (online) backup system.
Now you’re “partially in the cloud… partially still on-premise. It’s the safest route, and the best of both worlds!” (as the pitch goes).
If this situation sounds more-or-less like status quo (with a dash of something loosely cloud-related) that’s because it is.
Don’t fall for it.
What’s being proposed to you is what you have today, with just a little cloud thrown in, so they can tell you, “There you go–you’re on the cloud!”
So that you’ll drop the subject. So that you’re satisfied that you’re using modern, cloud-based technology… and so that they can continue to charge a fee to manage your (still on-premise) servers and IT.
“Hybrid Cloud” is Nonsense
And that’w why the subject, and the case for “Hybrid Cloud” is truly nonsense. Its a gimmick, a ruse to keep as much infrastructure (which requires proactive maintenance) within your firm as possible.
In fairness, not all IT consultants take this approach. Plenty of IT consultants are honest brokers, and will truly and honestly recommend a solution that is what’s in the best interest of their client (even if it’s not in their best interests, which moving to the cloud often isn’t).
When its comes to the decision of moving to the cloud or staying on-premise, I highly recommend that you either move everything to the cloud, or keep everything on-premise. In other words, all of your firm’s technology–your software, your documents and your email–should live together, on the same platform.
Think about how each component of your technology interacts with the others. Your Practice Management software may integrate with your Outlook calendar. Your billing software may need to export to Excel. Your legal software may tie into your file server and documents. Separating these elements creates a disjointed technology mess. You’ll have more technology to manage (and pay for), not less.
Related: Piecemeal the Cloud At Your Own Risk
It’s true, life is often better in the cloud as a law firm. But if, for any reason, you decide to stay on-premise, stay entirely on premise. Don’t piecemeal the cloud, and avoid anything that resembles a “Hybrid Cloud.”