Cloud, SaaS, hosted, on-prem. What are they and why should I care?

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Cloud, SaaS, hosted, on-prem. What are they and why should I care?  

There’s confusion and ambiguity around the jargon of hosted systems and software-as-a service (SaaS) and cloud. Whilst we all appreciate that technology can provide new and more efficient ways of working, that mobile working and better collaboration deliver competitive advantage and that some systems are more secure than others. Finding a path to decision making is complicated and can be overwhelming. The desire to embrace technology isn’t enough, you need to understand what the different options mean for your business.

The term cloud tends to be used rather loosely. It’s important to understand the fundamental differences between native cloud platforms and hosted versions of traditional on premise software systems – because otherwise you might miss out on the key benefits sought and achieved through true cloud.

Demystifying hosted systems parading as cloud

A hosted system means that the storage part (aka the database) and processing part (aka the server) are located in a remote datacenter, physically separated from the lawyer’s workstation (aka client layer). That’s not Software as a Service – aka SaaS.  In fact, hosted systems are pretty traditional architecture, they were conceived, architected, and developed for on-premises use and the hosted version just creates a physical distance between the database and the workstation

Why Cloud SaaS is different

Cloud SaaS solutions are conceived and developed, tested, and deployed for highly efficient, secure, modern workloads. This technology deploys newer, more robust and scalable web architecture.  Fundamentally, this means that with SaaS everything was developed with the web in mind, using web technologies.

Why does the difference matter to me?

SaaS true cloud solutions are a single instance for all clients and all users. With an on-premise or hosted systems there are a number of innate IT challenges – deploying, licensing, monitoring, updating and supporting hardware and software! It’s an exhausting list.  Even for the vendor those tasks multiply with the number of clients and users.  On the other hand, customers of SaaS enjoy a single instance of the solution. That is to say the same version used is the same for all clients and all users. Everybody gets the updates. It’s the same architecture, hardware, and software. It’s a one-to-many model and this means that SaaS vendors tend to have more time and resources to investment their technology, security, and compliance because all their customers will benefit. A tiny law firm, with just three fee earners, will benefit in the same way as one with thousands.  Application developments and improvements that evolve through working with all kinds of customers and satisfying specific needs and requirements benefit all clients. That’s just not the case with on premise and that is why it matters.

Is SaaS safe?

The dreaded concept of co-mingling client data is to be avoided at all costs. You may have heard that a hosted or on-premise model is safer because it’s not multi-tenanted. However, the truth is, documents from multiple clients are stored on the same disks, same hardware, and same network. Whereas SaaS, using cloud architecture, gives firms the freedom of a complete physical and logical segregation of storage. Encryption keys can be used for particularly sensitive data. There is no sharing of storage systems and a modern cloud SaaS architecture can leverage world class technology, best practice, governance certifications and audits for everyone. True cloud also has business continuity built-in, with your information secured in data centers built with the benefit of security expertise and data center management knowhow. This improves availability and creates robust secure back-up, without additional cost.

The tech task

You no longer need to prepare and plan for costly upgrades or wait for annual software updates. Automatic updates save time and money, and bring consistency and a high level of satisfaction to users.  Estimating and allocating IT costs can be more accurate and tech teams can also move on to higher value tasks and skills can be put to far better use.

Collaboration and Mobility

Working in this way will also accelerate your firm’s ability to serve its clients. International offices will now have access the same system and data without any latency or delays, this also creates a more cohesive collaborative environment across the firm’s offices.  Often accessed from anywhere on any device a move towards mobile working can improve productivity and give your people a new found flexibility.

Reduce costs and cost of ownership

Cloud SaaS applications should actually create immediate cost reduction benefits – things like power consumption, desktop management, IT administration for a start.  They also change capital expense into a variable one and lower operating costs. This basically means you pay for what you need on-demand and there’s no upfront capital investment. The cost of entry is not prohibitive which levels the playing field for law firms of all shapes and sizes and the benefits are universal, no matter what the shape and size of your firm. There’s no excuse to not get started.

Josie Jakub, NetDocuments


NetDocuments is a cloud-based, legal technology services solution offering state-of-the-art machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities. NetDocuments enables 2,500+ global customers with a single, scalable cloud-based platform for securing and collaborating on documents, emails and real-time conversations.

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