This article appeared in Cybersecurity Law & Strategy, an ALM publication for privacy and security professionals, Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Corporate Counsel, Internet and Tech Practitioners, In-House Counsel. Visit the website to learn more.
As a Managing Partner of Momkus McCluskey LLC — a full-service law firm serving Chicagoland and northern Illinois — one of my key initiatives this past year was to evaluate our firm’s IT, and identify where and how we could make improvements. I was both thrilled and a little apprehensive to tackle such an important aspect of our business, and dove in headfirst to identify our real needs and pain points, as well as evaluate the best solution to address them.
From my experience working at the firm for over a decade, I was already aware of some software and operating system compatibility issues we experienced across the office. A big challenge was keeping all of our individual computers maintained, backed up, secure, and on the same patch and application versions. Each and every PC, as well as its array of software, had to be manually updated on a device-by-device basis, which isn’t easy to accomplish in a uniform manner when you’re dealing with a mix of device types and varying specifications.
Because of this, we’d encounter problems when using basic applications, such as Microsoft Office or Outlook — not to mention the fact that we were using Exchange Server 2010, a version no longer supported by Microsoft. Sometimes an employee couldn’t access a file because their system was too outdated, so they’d have to email the file around to different computers just to open it. And when it came to adding new employees to our ecosystem, you can imagine it was not an easy process to provision and manage new users.
Another problem that hindered our productivity was the inability to work remotely, which unfortunately made a lot of people feel more or less chained to their desks. Our VPN system had been set up and implemented years ago and caused too many problems to be usable. Working from home or anywhere other than the office was virtually impossible (no pun intended), and this really impeded our ability to work efficiently and effectively.
Transitioning from Servers
On top of these issues, I felt it was time to transition away from spending on traditional on-premise expenses like servers and a server room. For one thing, all of our physical servers had been purchased years ago and were all out of warranty. In this respect, I knew that moving to the cloud could be helpful, but with such an enormous market of services available, I wanted to make sure we did all the necessary research to pinpoint the right solution for our particular needs.
Of course, cybersecurity was at the top of our list. As an all-encompassing firm handling everything from corporate work to litigation for everyone from local businesses to Fortune 500 corporations, it goes without saying that we handle a great deal of sensitive information on a daily basis. I wanted to ensure that, whatever direction we went with our IT, we would be following the absolute best practices from a security perspective. I needed to know that our data would be safe, secure, as well as fully backed up in case something went wrong.
Luckily, we were working with a consultant who introduced us to a local Chicago-based software company called Nerdio, who we were told could provide a completely integrated, virtualized IT environment with all the components needed to run our business — servers, desktops, collaboration tools, security, backup, and more. Having been accustomed to piecing together our IT environment using different providers, services, and vendors, we were very much intrigued by the idea of having all of our IT seamlessly integrated and managed as a whole. After listening intently to our needs and devising a fully detailed migration plan and timeline, Nerdio made us feel comfortable and confident in transitioning all of our data and applications to a virtualized, private cloud infrastructure — and executed the entire migration within just two months.
One of the biggest reassurances Nerdio provided us was enhanced cybersecurity for handling sensitive information. Because Nerdio’s technology works by completely virtualizing our IT environment, all of our critical information is stored and relayed from our private cloud server. Data is never stored on any individual piece of hardware, whether it’s an employee’s desktop, personal laptop, or mobile device, so we felt at more at ease knowing we were minimizing any possible vulnerabilities or exposure.
In addition, Nerdio’s IT environment comes with pre-configured cybersecurity software and updates that are provided automatically and are designed to meet the very latest standards to combat both known and emerging threats. This includes enhanced security measures such as multi-factor authentication, which we have the flexibility to activate automatically any time any user accesses their desktop from outside the office. Because Nerdio builds cybersecurity best practices in at the foundational level, we never have to worry about the risk of our 25+ employees accidentally mishandling information, or having to hire an additional cybersecurity resource to oversee everything. And thankfully, we also don’t have to be responsible for manually updating our own security software.
In fact, we no longer have to be responsible for manually updating anything anymore, because Nerdio takes care of all of that. Thanks to its seamless, automatic, and simple delivery of virtual desktops, Nerdio gives us a consistent user experience and compatibility across the board. This has completely removed the burden and headache of having to handle any IT matters from our staff, and has freed us all up to focus solely on our work. Nerdio migrated all the employees from the outdated Exchange server to Office 365, so that all users automatically receive all new features and security updates, including with the latest version of Exchange. We never have to pay to upgrade our licensing or for any labor to perform the upgrade, which you usually would in a traditional IT scenario.
Another benefit of virtualization is the easy and secure remote access to all our systems, applications, documents and data. Office 365 comes with unlimited archiving, so Nerdio migrated all of our users’ local PST files and made them accessible from anywhere, instead of just on local desktops. The ability to work from anywhere, anytime has created a profound uptick in productivity, and been a game-changer for our employees’ day-to-day workflow. And again, we never have to worry about unauthorized or risky use of any firm information or spend extra time training our employees, because Nerdio has built-in safeguards and safety nets that prevent careless human errors and mistakes from happening in the first place.
In addition, the first thing that Nerdio did before we even agreed to make the move was to perform a comprehensive audit and assessment of our entire IT from their perspective. This was incredibly helpful, as I am not an IT expert and was glad to have professional oversight to aid with my internal assessment. In addition to the issues I mentioned, Nerdio uncovered a gaping hole in our backup protocol, which left us completely vulnerable if something had gone wrong.
The data replicas were not occurring nearly frequently enough to keep pace with the firm’s needs. In addition, we had no off-site backup protocol and therefore no robust disaster recovery plan in place in case something happened to our physical hardware. Like many law firms, our company deals with such a grand amount of information being worked on at any given time that the idea of losing just an hour’s work would be devastating. We are now able to initiate fully comprehensive backups as often as we need, in fact, as frequently as every 15 minutes. Nerdio automatically backs up our entire IT and also replicates it to a secondary, geographically dispersed data center — so we’re covered no matter what happens.
Beyond all of the night-and-day improvements to our technology and overall productivity, we were thoroughly impressed with the Nerdio team. They made us feel so comfortable with the migration process and have gone above and beyond the job description — they even came to our office to help us fix our WiFi hotspots, even though it’s not really within the scope of their responsibilities. They make themselves available to us 24/7/365, so we feel like we’re getting all the benefits and reassurance of an on-site IT staff without having to pay a premium for one.
Perhaps the most profound impact that Nerdio has had on our business is in taking the burden of complexity and excessive cost out of the IT equation. The biggest relief that we don’t even have to think about our IT — not only do we have a solid foundation for our infrastructure, Nerdio’s team takes care of everything for us. In our business, time is quite literally money, and we’re glad we never have to worry anymore about sinking unnecessary time and worry into our IT.
Jennifer Friedland is the managing partner at Momkus McCluskey LLC. She focuses her practice in commercial and business litigation and appellate practice.