Abacus Private Cloud: Desktop as a Service (DaaS) for Lawyers

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When it comes to your firm’s IT, the cloud offers advantages in cost, convenience, reliability, portability, and security. But maybe you aren’t interested in figuring out new software, the server in your closet works okay, and so the whole cloud thing sounds like a big hassle. However, a private cloud is much more simple than the name implies, and it is exactly what you want if you think moving to the cloud sounds like a pain.

Index

Cloud vs. Local

Cloud-based practice management software generally eschews complexity and customization for simplicity and ease of use. You do not need a consultant to set it up or figure out how to use it; you just hand over your credit card and start adding clients. It works great for lawyers willing to be flexible and adapt their procedures to their software’s limitations.

Old-school, locally-hosted practice management software like AbacusLaw or Lexis’s Time Matters is complex and customizable. (Some might call it clunky and bloated.) But for firms with varying needs, or firms that want all the bells and whistles and the flexibility to customize, old-school practice management software is the only option.

The Value of a Private Cloud

Abacus Private Cloud (APC) does not fit either of these definitions. It is both more basic and more advanced than practice management software. It is not software as a service, but infrastructure as a service. When you sign up with APC, you are outsourcing your entire IT department, including the computers. You do not need to use Abacus’s own case management software. In fact, the “cloud desktop” that APC sets up is entirely software-independent, so you can use whatever desktop or virtual case management software you prefer, while still receiving the benefits of APC’s cloud setup.

In fact, using cloud to describe a service like APC is needlessly confusing. If you have ever used GoToMyPC, Microsoft Remote Desktop, Back to my Mac, or Chrome Remote Desktop, then you already know how this works. Your “private cloud” is essentially just a computer sitting in a secure facility and connected to the Internet. When you log into your cloud computer, it is funcitionally your regular-old Windows desktop. Your desktop basically functions like a keyboard, mouse, and monitor with really long wires.

Because all your computing essentially shifts to the cloud, the ideal technology set up for APC is probably a Chromebook because of its low cost, relatively high security, and limited local storage makes for an ideal terminal. You can use whatever software you want, because the remote computer is just a computer that you use over the Internet. It runs Windows, Outlook. Word, Clio, and whatever else you want to use. If you lose your laptop, it doesn’t matter because all your firm’s information is stored in a secure server facility. Just change your password and go about your business.

There is a lot of complicated technology involved, but for you it is about as simple as the cloud can get.

APC has been in the business of providing practice management technology for 30-plus years, but their clear goal is that one day you would use Abacus as your IT provider, bookkeeper, case management software provider, and virtual desktop service. If you are essentially looking to offload all of your technology needs, APC is an excellent solution.

APC positions itself as a solution that is equally viable for a solo attorney or a firm of 50 attorneys. However, it is far more likely that the latter would need the comprehensiveness of APC.

Getting Started With Abacus Private Cloud

If you decide you would like to move to the cloud, Abacus has their engineering and provisioning team sit down with you to discuss what you need. Setting up a two-computer solo attorney network is obviously going to be less complex and less expensive than creating a virtual cloud for a mid-sized firm. During setup, you can specify what software you already own that you would like to keep, and Abacus will install it into your virtual cloud for you. They will also map your printers, enable scanning to email, and functionally act as your IT team would in terms of setting up all your computing needs.

Migrating To Abacus Private Cloud

Functionally, there isn’t anything that can not migrate to Abacus, because the entire point of Abacus is to recreate your existing desktop environment. All your data — your programs, your web browsing, your document files — goes up to the cloud. The only wrinkle you may run into is whether you need to obtain an additional license for software you have installed locally and would also like installed in the Abacus cloud.

Using Abacus Cloud

Since this is your own little slice of cloud, you can do whatever you want with it in terms of how you set up your desktop and what software you use, and therefore your end-user experience should not be any different than if you were running your machine locally. You can continue to use whatever case management software you currently use, although Abacus does say that there is a tighter integration if you use Abacus Law. You can also use whatever office software suite you like, but Abacus integrates fully with Microsoft Office 365, which is a logical choice for those practitioners seeking to move their software to the cloud.

One of the biggest concerns users have with moving things to the cloud is that pulling data back and forth across the internet can be maddeningly slow. Abacus promises that their provisioning setup will address whether your internet speed is too slow to make the most of the cloud. On Abacus’s end, all the hard drives in their servers are solid-state drives instead of spinning hard drives, so you theoretically should not experience minimal lag when working in the cloud. Abacus runs Windows Server 2012 as their back end, but you run whatever you would like at your end. You can be on a Mac, a PC, or your Blackberry (if you are unfortunate enough to still have a Blackberry) and still access your private cloud.

Mobile Apps And Extensions

Abacus offers both Android and iOS apps free of charge so that you can access your remote desktop via a mobile device.

Security

Speaking of not worrying about your technology, Abacus provides robust and redundant security for your data, which makes sense since literally all of your data would be living there. Physically, the data centers have, among other things, biometric locks, 24/7 data center monitoring, 2-factor employee authentication upon entrance and exit, perimeter fences, HD cameras, night vision cameras, and an armed security response team.

Each time you access your data via the APC environment, you will be going through 256-bit encryption. Once you are operating in the cloud environment, you are behind dual-layer Abacus firewalls.

Backing Up Your Data

Abacus states it performs nightly backups of your Abacus Law material (if that is applicable) and your data drive. Additionally, they replicate all core servers to alternative physical servers every 30 seconds.

You are also able to handle your own backups by simply dropping and dragging to a local drive.

Evaluating Abacus Private Cloud For Your Practice

Related“Making The Move: Taking My Law Office to Abacus Private Cloud”
Law Technology Today

The key question that you should ask yourself if you are contemplating Abacus Private Cloud is how much money and time you are currently spending maintaining your existing IT infrastructure. If you work out of the spare bedroom and run your whole practice on a Linux machine running only open source software, this is not for you. If you are dealing with significant hardware and IT personnel costs, the idea of shifting everything to what is functionally a turnkey program with a fixed monthly rate may prove very attractive.

Price

APC services begin at $165/month for the first user, and additional users start at about $47 per month. You can reach out to them for a quote based on your particular needs. You are probably dealing with a bit of sticker shock at the price, and that is understandable if you are a solo and your tech costs consist of your monthly Internet fees and, say, $50 a month for Clio or something similar. However, if you are a mid-sized firm and you are currently paying a small staff to maintain a network, troubleshoot computers, load software, and make tech purchasing decisions, it may be a bargain to pay a fixed rate to Abacus and stop worrying about your IT infrastructure.

Your monthly service fee covers 24×7 technical support — including an after-hours emergency line. For additional services like managed migrations, data imports, and management of third-party applications, Abacus will work with clients to analyze needs and recommend a scope of work and extra cost.

There is no free trial available, but Abacus will walk you through a demo for free.

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