June 16th, 2009 by The Clio Team
Over the past few months we’ve been honored with invitations to speak at several legal conferences and bar association meetings on the topic of Software-as-a-Service and its growing impact on how leading-edge attorneys are practicing law today. Among the most well-received of these talks was titled “10 Things Every Lawyer Should Know About SaaS”, which aimed to demystify the concept of SaaS and educate attorneys on how to evaluate the suitability of available solutions for their practice. Over subsequent days we’ll be making the highlights of this presentation available through a series of posts on the Clio blog; we invite all our readers to follow along, and hope to address many of the lingering questions on what it means to practice in “the cloud”. In the first of these posts, we’ll build a solid foundation by addressing the question “What is Software-as-a-Service?”
So, what exactly is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)? Generally speaking, any software application which is licensed for use on an on-demand basis could be classified as SaaS, however, the terminology is typically used to describe any application which is delivered via the internet and accessible through a web browser. In contrast to the more traditional boxed software distribution model, SaaS applications seldom require that anything be installed on the user’s computer. Instead, everything required to interface with the application is downloaded each time the service is accessed.
Similarly, where traditional software requires local data storage, either on a local hard drive or on a networked resource, SaaS applications store their clients’ data in “the cloud”, which is a generic moniker used to encompass the many outsourced (or hosted) storage and computing resources employed to support most internet websites and applications. As shown in the figure above, server resources, databases, and other key elements of a practices IT infrastructure are stored on the “Local Area Network” side of the firewall in the traditional computing model. However, with the Software-as-a-Service model, as depicted below, many of these resources can be externalized and securely accessed via the Internet.
Though SaaS has come into fashion fairly recently as a legitimate alternative to conventional desktop software, the concept of serving applications over the web has been around since the early days of the internet, and many users of the longstanding free email services such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail may unknowingly already be SaaS subscribers. SaaS has just begun to impact the legal technology industry, and over the course of this ten-part series we’ll aim to cover the key benefits and issues surrounding legal SaaS, and the questions that you, as a user, should consider asking before using any web-based products.