So should you be off to the Cloud?

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cloud computing for lawyers

It’s all the rage at the moment to store your documents on the web whether it is a Picassa album for your photos to share or Google for your documents.

However as a professional with client confidentiality commitments is this really an option for you as a small business?

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The Cloud refers to a storage area that is on the internet and not held within your organisation, on your own server or computer. You might, for example, place some word documents in your chosen cloud account while you are in the office and you might access them when you get home. It can be useful when you have a large document to send to a client and it is likely to be rejected by their e-mail to provide a download link.

So who offers cloud accounts and what do they give you?

www.dropbox.com

Space and cost

This gives you 2GB free and you can get more space if people you refer take up an account with Dropbox. However if you need more storage there is the option to pay a monthly fee of $9.99 and you get 50 GB or $19.99 and you get 100 GB. There is an annual fee option of $795 for 350GB shared between 5 people designed to be used by a team.

Security

This used to be quite secure but the later terms and conditions allowed certain staff of Dropbox to access your documents. They claim this is only to do with legal requirements but is this sufficient for you to meet your obligations under the Data Protection Act and client care obligations? One way round this is to ensure that any documents uploaded are password protected or encrypted. It should be noted that Dropbox is located in the USA.

Usability

One of the beauties of using Dropbox is it just appears like another folder on your computer and you can use it in the same way as any local folder. Documents saved in your Dropbox folder are automatically synchronised between any computer where you install Dropbox and sign in with the same account. It is also really easy to share specific sub-folders of your Dropbox folder with other Dropbox users of your choice. Dropbox files can also be accessed via a web interface and with iPhone, iPad and Android Applications. One thing I really like is that on paid accounts Dropbox maintains a history of changes to files allowing you to easily go back to a previous version.

docs.google.com

Space and cost

This gives you storage of 1GB for free and if you need more space it starts at 20 GB for $5 per annum and goes up to 16TB for $4096 per annum. Interestingly documents created within Google docs do not count towards your space limit.

Security

It is unclear where Google actually store your data and who in their staff has access to it. Google do claim that no other Google user will have access to your documents unless you specifically share them. Again you would need to question whether this would meet your obligations. Although it may well still be useful for non-client specific work.

Usability

This is principally designed for Google’s online document creation tools and is accessed purely through a web interface. This is quite restrictive.

Explore.live.com/windows-live-mesh which is the Microsoft live mesh version.

Space and Cost

This requires a Windows live account but will give you 5GB of free storage space which is based on what Microsoft calls your “sky drive”. It should be noted that Live Mesh only works on Windows based Pc’s (after Windows XP) and Intel based apple Mac PCs. This does not have the option to add extra storage for money yet.

In case you are not sure of the size of documents a 13 page word document is about 32KB which means that in 1 GB of storage you could get approximately 32,000 documents of this size. However do remember that scans are much larger and so are pictures.

Security

This again is bit of an unknown as it is not clearly stated where this is stored and who has access. It is likely the data would be stored in the United States.

Usability

Like Dropbox this appears as just another folder on your computer and automatically synchronises between computers where you install Live Mesh with your account. It is not quite so obvious how you share folders with other users. It should be noted that the Live Mesh sharing is a key feature of the upcoming next version of Windows (codename Windows ‘8’). One thing that is restrictive is the inability to run on Windows XP as many Netbooks still run this version of windows.

Others

There are also a number of other providers which might be worth a look including SugarSync and Box.net but the ones above seem to be the most common.

The cloud is certainly a good way of moving and sharing documents but it is recommended that any client sensitive documents which are stored in this way are password protected and ideally encrypted.

More on how to encrypt your documents next time.

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