Don’t Get Burned by the Fake Cloud

April 27, 2021

I get this call about once a month. “Hi, Craig! My name is Lisa Smith and I work at Some Big Firm.” A group of attorneys has figured out that big firms are inefficient and we can be happier by forming our own firm.

I’m so excited when I come across a new business owner. Being self-employed is such an empowering feeling and it’s really cool to help them with the transition! Sometimes they’re not sure what software package suits their needs, but after giving my pitch on Cloud DMS (NetDocuments), Cloud Time/Billing/Accounting (Soluno) and Office 365 we usually  get started right away.

That excitement turns to dismay when I check in a couple of weeks later and discover the firm has purchased some hosted desktop solution to access all the cloud software they just purchased.

A choice that is both misguided and utterly baffling, because have you seen how expensive those things are?

Hopefully, this explains why that is a bad idea.

Avoid Hosted

If you haven’t moved to the cloud yet, your programs and servers are in-house, so your organization is hosting its own data. Companies will offer to host your data in their private cloud, meaning they take your office data and add it to their servers. The technology hasn’t changed, just the physical location of your computers. In this case, instead of owning your servers, you are renting them. You will be using old technology like a remote desktop (RDP) or Citrix to access your data. 

When I started my career 20 years ago, this is how we set law firms.  This technology is extremely old and clunky. 

Your computer desktop is now hosted in the private cloud sharing spaces with other companies windows desktops. Every picked up a sick baby from the Nursery? Your baby was hanging out with a whole bunch of other babies, one who happened to be sick. That sick baby infected all the other babies. When you picked up your kid and brought him home, they infected the rest of your family.

The same thing happens when many windows desktops from different companies get hosted in a private cloud.


Email from a client hosting their client “desktop” in a private cloud.

Besides hosting desktops in the private cloud, you can host specific software. Some companies didn’t believe in cloud computing. They decided to stick with on-premise software, hoping the cloud was a fad. Just like Blockbuster Video, they now realize that cloud software (Netflix) will wipe them out.

It’s kind of hard to develop cloud software from the ground up. The cheaper alternative is to take the on-premise software and move it to a private cloud. The software is pretty much the same, but it is now hosted on a windows server in a data center.

The nursery analogy still works when a company is “hosting” their software. You still have a bunch of Windows Servers hanging out together.


If we go to the Vendor’s website, we see that they are hosting their data using Remote Desktop. 

“TrialWorks Hosted Services provide enterprise-level capabilities to law firms without the upfront costs. The hosted platform is an alternative to owning your own equipment and is accessible from virtually anywhere. Users with an internet connection and a basic computer can access TrialWorks, Word, Excel, Outlook, and a number of other products using Remote Desktop. TrialWorks Hosted systems feature modern Windows Server platforms and Microsoft Office Professional.”

To access the Trial Works service, you were remoting into a virtual pc in their data center. Is that really cloud?

Be waring if the cloud provider you are going with uses the words Hosted, Windows Server, or Private Cloud.

Seek True Cloud

Let’s use NetDocuments as an example. There are around 2800 Law Firms operating NetDocuments. Over twenty percent of the largest one hundred law firms in the United States are using NetDocuments. There are also a whole bunch of solos and small firms using NetDocuments. Everyone is using the same software. If you go to their website, you don’t see NetDocuments Enterprise, NetDocuments Hosted, NetDocuments Small Firm, NetDocuments Cloud, or NetDocuments Local. There is only one version of NetDocuments.

NetDocuments is explicitly built for the cloud and has only one version, NetDocuments. Their smallest customer is using the same software, their largest customer. All of their resources are going into one product.

NetDocuments is Multi-Tenant

Let’s go back to the Nursery again. What’s more comfortable, taking care of one baby or taking care of thirty babies? I have a good friend that has four kids. He told me recently; the first baby was a joke; once we had three, it became untenable.  Don’t even ask about that dog.   We see the same situation with all these Single Tenant Programs. These companies (that didn’t see the cloud coming) are now spreading their limited resources over multiple software layers. It’s untenable, and the software suffers.

Questions to ask a software provider

  • How many versions of software exist? (Answer should be 1)
  • Is the largest customer using the same software as the smallest customer? (Answer should be Yes)
  • Was the software originally on-premise software but moved to a remote location?  (Answer should be NO)
  • Do I primarily access the software through a web browser or through remote desktop? (Answer should be browser)

Questions to ask your IT Company once you are 100% cloud

  • If all my documents, emails, practice management, and accounting are cloud-based, why do I need a “cloud” desktop? (You don’t)
  • If all my documents, emails, practice management, and accounting are cloud-based, why do I need a server? (You don’t)