The partners of Harbin and Burnett (Standeffer and Harbin back then), an Anderson (South Carolina) based law firm, have already decided to use Google Apps for Business, take advantage of JungleDisk/AmazonS3 storage, and implement modest IT solutions to power their law firm. A new opportunity to upgrade all existing hardware slowly appeared as the law firm was facing the deprecation of aging Small Business Server 2003 Server, Microsoft Windows Vista computers, and the construction of a new building to call their home. Over several weeks, key personnel at the law firm worked with our solution consultants to evaluate the feasibility of a Apple/Mac based litigation law firm. Their driving factors were the presumed reliability and design of Apple computers and the belief that an alternative solution could replace the PC based TrialWorks Case Management Software.
The decision to utilize Apple hardware was easy; even with the premium cost and lack of support for their existing products, the partners felt it would be the best choice for the future of the law firm. However, even though some case/practice management products were (and are) available for Mac OS X, none passed the initial stages of review. The firm shifted to alternative cloud products. After evaluating a number of solutions including Aderant TotalOffice, GoClio, and RocketMatter the firm was faced with a catch-22: give up TrialWorks for an inferior solution or keep it and make it work.
Initially, Standeffer and Harbin continued to focus on on-premise architecture to maintain TrialWorks. This meant an upgrade of server hardware and software, migration, Apple-Microsoft co-existence, and visualization of Windows. Solutions explored included Parallels/VMWare Vusion based clients along with a on-premise server as well as an on-premise Terminal Server. Aside from the heavy costs associated with licensing of such deployments, each solution extended the firm’s dependance on contracted IT services.
As all, presumably viable, options were exhausted another challenge began forming: how to handle the physical move of the law firm to a new building, migrate server and clients to new platforms, and maintain operations without any significant downtime. In each presented case, the risk for multi-day outages were significant as the technology was moved and users adapted to the new environments.
CloudBento offered a simple alternative: move everything critical first with nearly no impact on users, deploy all the desired hardware with marginal impact on the business, and keep the core solution under the firm’s ownership. The first two items were geared at minimizing impact on people, while the third meant that Standeffer & Harbin could benefit from the world-class Amazon Cloud technology while maintaining granular control over their assets.
PHASE 1: ON-PREMISE TO CLOUD, REMOTE MIGRATION
The first phase was to deprecate the Windows Vista machines prior to moving the office. This stage enabled to firm to minimize their dependance on the on-premise Small Business Server, address any Amazon Cloud related issues, and train the staff on using the Citrix Receiver. However, before any of this could happen, proper testing took place to locate and solve for any problems that may affect the migration weekend.
CloudBento Solution Consultants had already completed a pilot program that determined the transfer times for the Microsoft SQL Server database and key file/folder data. Furthermore, weeks before the planned migration, we synchronized local data repositories with Amazon S3 Storage, saving valuable time and diagnosing issues with file structures. This, in itself, was a large burden on the choked T1 connectivity the office had and the struggling Windows Server. Interesting lessons were learned during this stage, for example, that there were nearly quarter-million empty directories in a folder structure that needed a cleanup before successful transfer could take place.
On migration weekend, the office was cut-off at 2PM Friday for a migration start. The user computers were left on. The Amazon Cloud environment was already prepped by this stage, therefore all that was necessary was to backup and restore the SQL Database. User accounts, file system, and key data were already synched.
CloudBento also had remote access to all computers on-site, enabling us to complete the entire process remotely. Our team removed all on-premise applications from each computer (preventing rogue access) and installed (and configured) Citrix Receiver for connectivity to the Amazon Cloud. When users started their day on Monday, they reported no noticeable differences. Icons looked the same on their desktops, even though now apps were being streamed from remote servers. Due to the slowness of the T1 there was a lag, but it was manageable
PHASE 2: APPLE HARDWARE
The second phase was done onsite. Prior to coming onsite, the firm provided CloudBento with blue-prints of the 6400sqft office, consisting of two floors. Using WiFi mapping technology, we designed a Wireless plan to accommodate AirPort Extreme and Express access points throughout the building. Once onsite, the wireless architecture was deployed using a temporary T1 line as the firm awaited Fiber connectivity.
The firm chose a combination of iMac (22″ and 27″) computers, MacMinis, and MacBook Air laptops, along with several iPads and even AppleTVs to AirPlay presentations in conference rooms. Even though each computer required only the Citrix Receiver to be usable, the provisioning process included deployment of directory services, key applications, remote management tools, and customizations. Many of the settings were controlled via the MacMini OSX Mountain Lion Server.
Not everything went smoothly; issues with some of the equipment, new wiring, and poor “temporary” bandwidth resulted in some difficulty during the deployment. However, the case management software, financial applications, and data remained accessible to all not only from the office, but from all remote locations.