Working Remotely; a Blue Tuesday Perspective

As we all slowly become accustomed to working from home and start to look at the future, several clients have asked questions regarding Cloud computing in general and Blue Tuesday in particular.  The     answers to those questions may be useful to many of you, so, here goes.

First of all, Cloud computing is nothing complicated, it is simply using somebody else’s computer that you access over the internet.  It isn’t even anything new.  Many years ago we used to use a dial-up modem to log in to the local University’s Computer and upload our pre- written programmes.  An early version of ‘Cloud computing’!  Of course, in a commercial world the owner of that computer will charge you rent for using it and that rental charge will include an element of profit over and above the cost of providing and maintaining that computer.  Whatever software you wish to use can usually then be loaded onto that Cloud computer and used remotely.  Yes, some software does lend itself to a Cloud model better that others, but generally most software, including Blue Tuesday, can be used in the Cloud given the right configuration and hardware.

What are the main advantages?

·  One of the key advantages of Cloud computing is the ability to access information from anywhere with an internet connection.  It makes working away from the office easier.

·  The initial cost is usually lower.  Most Cloud computer providers simply charge a monthly rental     depending on usage.  A few do charge upfront initial set-up fees, but they are usually less that the cost of          purchasing in-house servers.

·  If your Cloud computer provider uses a proper data centre, then physical security is usually better than that in your office.  Certainly, there is less likelihood of someone breaking in and stealing all the        computers.

·  Backups, upgrades, data security suddenly becomes ‘not my problem’.  It is all taken care of by the Cloud computing provider and is one less thing to worry about … perhaps.

So, why do I have reservations? 

The data you hold regarding clients and their matters is highly confidential and sensitive in a way that even banking data is not.  The loss or public exposure of that data will have serious repercussions with regard to the continuation of your business.  For me, that makes the ‘everything becomes not my problem’ attitude that Cloud providers tout as an advantage, simply wrong.  You are ultimately responsible for your data         security, regardless of who you delegate that task to.   Delegating that task to a 3rd party company where you are unlikely to even talk to the person responsible for your data security is foolhardy to say the least.   Most people who have data in the Cloud have no idea where that data is physically stored; some hosts won’t even provide a user with a full copy of their own data.  Or a backup.

Then there is the risk of the company that owns the Cloud computer/s going bankrupt.  What happens to your data in that scenario?

I’d also consider Cloud computing more expensive in the long run for a typical firm of solicitors.  I’ve costed a single user running Blue Tuesday 5 days a week on Amazon Web Services.  They charge more for hosting Blue Tuesday than we charge for using it.  Computer hardware to run it in-house is cheap and simple these days and requires very little specialist input to setup.

How would I recommend running Blue Tuesday remotely?

There are probably 3 main ways, that work, to set up Blue Tuesday for remote access.

·  As mentioned before, Blue Tuesday can be configured to run in a Cloud environment in a remote data centre.  However, it can be expensive and raises concerns about data security, responsibility and availability.

·  Install Blue Tuesday on workstations in the office and connect to those workstations remotely.  This is probably the most common configuration people are currently running at the moment.  The data remains in the office and in the event of connection failure all data remains safe and can be accessed by reconnecting, or in the worst case a visit to the office.  This is ideal for short term remote working as the software needed can be obtained free for limited use and isn’t too expensive if you decide to buy it.  The downsides are that it does have a bit of a short term ‘temporary fix’ feel about it and you do need computers in the office to be switched on and working, although not necessarily with screens.

·  Set up Blue Tuesday under Terminal Services on an in-office server and allow both in-house and       remote users to log on.  In effect set up your own private Cloud.  This is probably my favourite long term     option.  Yes, there is an initial cost but once setup there’s no ongoing monthly hosting payments and you    retain control of the data, including who can access, backup and copy it.  GDPR-wise, this is also probably the best solution.

What not to do with Blue Tuesday

We have had a few people try to run Blue Tuesday through a VPN (virtual private network) with the   application on a remote computer and the data in the office.  This rarely works well and performance is often at a level I would consider unusable.  There is also a huge risk of data corruption if (when) the connection fails.  This configuration can work with the right internet connection, but I don’t know of any of our clients with such a connection.  The amount of data being sent back and forth simply swamps the VPN and it fails.

Finally, we need to mention Internet contracts.  We find the majority of people are using cheap and cheerful internet services that are really intended for home use.  These have no service level guarantees     beyond ‘best endeavour’.  As in, they’ll fix it when they can.  We have known some of these fixes take weeks, not ideal if you run your business over the internet.

At the other end of the scale there are leased line services available with guaranteed fix times measured in hours.  Obviously, this kind of service costs considerably more.  I’m not advocating everyone moves to a BT leased line with 4 hour fix times,  but likewise I’d not recommend running mission critical applications over the cheapest internet service available.

Hopefully the above has been of use.  As always, we are here to answer any questions.