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Life at a Law Firm’s IT Department

Doing More with Less

Though we may have finally hit the bottom of the economic slide (and the jury is still out on that one), we in the IT profession have faced more challenges over the last 12 months than most of us have had to deal with in our entire careers prior to that.  The interesting thing is that for most folks in the IT industry in general - and in the legal community specifically - this type of budget pressure on the IT department is nothing new. Far from it, Microsoft even created entire marketing campaigns around the tag line of “Do More with Less,” and that was years before the markets slid. IT professionals in the legal field have faced special challenges, however. Though budgets are tightening and resources are shrinking, the nature of the business of law continues to require a high level of technology performance and reliability. Perhaps even more so, as many clients will be turning to legal firms in greater numbers now than ever before as mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies must be processed and presided over in greater numbers.

So, how does a legal firm caught between the need for more technology and the forces of ever-tightening budget concerns continue to meet both challenges? As with most things in IT, some economies can be found in leveraging existing technology platforms in new ways. Also, incorporation of limited new technologies in a cost-effective manner can further reduce the overall budget numbers, though they will require short-term increases in financial output.

Reusing existing technology platforms is not only a way to reduce budget gaps to a more acceptable level, but also a way to help “green” the firm. Instead of purchasing new hardware for both new systems and projects like backup and recovery, refresh aging servers and reuse the old hardware. Since the servers in question would need to be replaced anyway, and since operating at a performance deficit in the event of an emergency are generally acceptable, this will allow for hardware refreshes to impact more than just the single systems they replace.

As systems begin to age out due to industry regulation, vendor turnover or other factors, those platforms which ran those workloads become reusable resources as well. In many cases, servers purchased for specific projects that have now past can be re-utilized to house systems for upcoming projects without reducing efficiency or workload performance.

Newer technologies may cost money up front, but can save dramatically in the long-run. Implementation of virtualization technologies is one example. While at least some capital investment will be needed to obtain the appropriate hardware and software, the ability to create multiple virtual servers on the same physical systems that normally run only one workload can be a terrific cost savings overall. This will require proper planning to ensure smooth migration pathways for the existing systems in addition to proper implementation for the new workloads that you can now leverage. There are, however, many tools and technologies to aid the firm in making sure that happens.

Combining the two ideas (repurpose and leverage key new technologies) can offer astounding benefits both to your technology resources and your bottom line. By purchasing a limited amount of virtualization technologies and leveraging them to provide an upgrade path for failing physical hardware, you can move from a single-workload platform to a multi-workload platform without totally re-engineering everything in the environment. This allows you to replace older equipment with much more efficient virtualized solutions, and therefore spend the least amount of money while simultaneously expanding your capacity.

Doing more with less (hardware, software, money) is nothing new for the IT department of any firm. We’ve always been asked to work with less overhead, yet provide greater capacity and power. Judicious re-allocation of existing systems while introducing key new technologies can help do both.

More Stories By Mike Talon

Mike Talon is a technology professional living and working in New York City. Having worked for companies from individual consult firms through Fortune 500 organizations, he’s had the opportunity to design systems from all over the technological spectrum. This has included day-to-day systems solutions engineering through advanced Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning work. Currently a Subject Matter Expert in Microsoft Exchange technologies for Double-Take Software, Mike is constantly learning to live life well in these very interesting times.