By: Jenny Bunch, Product Owner, ImageSoft
What’s all the fuss about cloud computing? Courts, like private businesses, are recognizing the advantages of the cloud that range from cost savings to scalability. Cloud-based solutions leverage a software delivery model that is remotely hosted and accessed over the internet. It is a significant shift from the traditional approach of premise-based software solutions. It turns out that “moving to the cloud” is creating easier, more secure access to not just the applications, but more importantly – the data stored on those applications.
Let’s discuss four advantages to leveraging cloud-hosted solutions for case management technologies. But first, let’s look at the differences between “cloud-like” solutions versus “real” cloud-hosted solutions.
Some cloud-like solution providers establish data centers where they host the hardware and software that would otherwise be installed at a court. They provide the infrastructure and access to the courts in a cloud-like manner.
Contrast this approach with solutions built using real cloud services, such as Microsoft’s Azure Cloud or Amazon Web Services (AWS), which manage global networks of data centers, with integrated tools for building and deploying applications and highly scalable and redundant storage options.
Only a real cloud-based solution approach provides the silver lining of these four advantages.
Advantage #1: Cost
With the budget challenges courts face today, minimizing costs of operations is essential. With cloud-hosted solutions, courts can reduce IT costs because they do not need to procure servers and other hardware and software that support the business applications. Because users are accessing the application over the internet and the service provider is hosting the applications and supporting infrastructure, courts need only pay for the use of the applications they are subscribing to. Costs associated with managing a data center, including the technology and human resources expenses, are reduced or eliminated. Essential personnel needed to oversee server rooms can be redirected to other strategic tasks. Further, courts can reduce hiring for specialized knowledge of particular hardware or software needed to run specialized applications. In addition, courts outsourcing IT assistance can have access to more options while maintaining the status quo on resourcing.
Advantage #2: Scalability
Did someone say “just-in-time”? Cloud computing supports an age-old approach to reducing costs by offering an on-demand solution to system resources. With a premise-based system, courts must often procure enough resources to handle the projected yearly growth and the peak-time volume, which results in unused resources. Further, courts that secure the “minimum system requirements” are basing their calculations off of average volumes and often find that the infrastructure is not robust enough to support the unforeseen need or anticipated efficiency the solution promises when it is needed the most.
With cloud computing, courts have the flexibility to add or reduce resources as needed and do it almost instantly.
Consider the following. With a cloud solution, courts can set processing power to automatically increase for periods of time when volume increases, such as arraignment and motion blocks and then reduce it at night and on weekends. The cloud meets the growing need to store large amounts of digital evidence, such as police cam videos, and provide on-demand access from multiple devices. True scalability. Crisis averted!
Advantage #3: Anytime, Anywhere Secure Data Access
Providing access to court data and documents electronically and on-demand is more important than ever before. But so is the ability to secure that data while making it available. Cloud-hosting gives courts the ability to share information more easily without opening their own network to risk because the data is not stored on the court’s network. Services like Azure provide the tools and services necessary to share and integrate multiple applications securely. So if a judge needs to sign a warrant in the middle of the night or access case files over the weekend, IT managers don’t have to sweat it with a cloud-hosted solution.
Of course, some court managers might roll their eyes at ”anytime” access as they are too familiar with hearing, “the system is down again.” But, cloud services provide tools and solutions for offline computing and high availability service agreements that get users closer to ”anytime” than ever before, thus reducing concerns that court operations will slow as they become more reliant on the electronic file instead of paper.
Advantage #4: High Availability
Hardware and network failures happen. As back office work and courtrooms are increasingly simplified by technology, court managers must be concerned with system availability from multiple perspectives. Beyond disaster recovery, some other considerations are system performance and uptime. True cloud-hosted solutions change the conversation from preventing downtime and failures to minimizing the impact through resilient design methods and systematic response.
For example, systems can be built so that one service failure doesn’t negatively impact other areas or so that essential business functions can continue while others may be slowed or stopped while the system or service is restored.
Also, cloud computing offers multiple data recovery and redundancy options from multiple replicas within a single data center to replications across data centers in different zones or regions in addition to the local replicas. This can guard against entire region failures. Further, data can be accessed and written to the primary or secondary location (and more) depending on the business requirements for data loss and recovery time.
The Take Away
As courts are considering renewing and updating technology needs, managers should be comparing their current technology and infastructure to modern computing and storage methods leveraging the cloud and its advantages. Moreover, when weighing options, court managers should be sure to understand the difference between true cloud versus cloud-like to ensure the maximum payoff.
Have you had a recent experience with a cloud-based solution?
Jenny Bunch can be reached at: (firstname.lastname@example.org).
 Microsoft. Designing resilient applications for Azure. March 24, 2017. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/architecture/resiliency/