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I.T. in practice: Making the proper connection

Every Issue

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2011 85(1/2) LIJ, p.83

The rapidly changing nature of internet service provision means that a firm’s internet plan warrants an annual review.

Query a small to medium-sized practice about their internet plan and their likely response is they cannot recall its details, having set it up quite a while ago. Alternatively, they receive an invoice for exceeding their monthly download allowances and increase their usage allowance.

There is often a query as to what is enough when it comes to speed and volume. Practices need to consider not just those factors, but also usage patterns during the day, reliability required, and the types of communication that will run over the internet line.

As a starting point, a typical practice office configuration of (say) 5-15 computers and a server will have “background” internet traffic of about 150Mb per day, consisting of automatic downloads, anti-virus and anti-spam updates, and other necessary basic web-based communication.

Based on this, no small to medium-sized legal practice should be considering an internet plan with a usage allowance of under 5Gb per month. A good budget starting point with any of the main suppliers is $50 per month, assuming a contract period of up to two years, and possibly with the internet modem included in the cost. Note that it is rare to find any internet service provider (ISP) that charges for data uploads (such as emails out of the firm); only downloads are counted in usage allowances.

After the basic level, some further analysis is required. Consideration needs to be given to what sort of additional traffic may force a practice to move off a low-end plan.

Remote access – either by having two offices linked by a virtual private network or by having staff and partners operating from home – will increase both the speed (“bandwidth”) requirement and usage allowance needs. So will any voice over IP (VoIP) facilities that the firm may have. VoIP requires dedicated, reliable bandwidth.

Another factor that will drive up usage will be some of the newer “apps” that are available for mobile devices synchronised with office computers. Examples of these apps available now in Australia include legal dictionaries and litigation calculators for some jurisdictions.

A practice may also wish to consider the nature of its interface with clients and other business contacts with respect to normal work flow.

For example, in a litigation practice where physical evidence is important, high- resolution photographs and short videos will often be moved in and out of the practice in the course of day-to-day case management – typically via email or through a secure extranet.

Moving to internet plans of 50-100Gb per month will involve a cost of about $100 per month, and many practices are moving to this level, recognising that legal practice no longer consists merely of A4 pieces of paper being moved between solicitor and client. This is also recognised as a good future-proofing strategy.

Many ISPs may distinguish their offering on the basis of “peak” versus “non-peak” traffic. To most legal practices this is largely irrelevant; their activities that drive internet traffic happen during “peak” times, and there is very little that can be done to try to move this to “non-peak” times.

An additional consideration that distinguishes the business-specific internet line from a basic internet line is the availability of a “business grade” service. Business grade services often have no download limits, higher reliability (guaranteed up-time), and higher speeds.

Practices may consider these if they have business-critical communications that occur over the internet, for example if there is a high dependence on “cloud computing” [see December 2010 LIJ, p81].

A practice that uses web-based document management, or uploads its daily data backups to a third-party internet host, would require a business-grade internet line. The pricing for this varies widely across ISPs, as each has different packaged products, but typically costs can run to double or triple those of a standard business service.

There are many ISPs in the market – the invaluable tool www.broadbandchoice.com.au lists more than 10,000 plans being offered by over 200 providers. However, practices should note that many of these companies are “downstream” re-sellers; contracting with service providers that have their own internet infrastructure makes the resolution of support problems significantly easier.

A conclusion reached by many practices reviewing this area is that the starting point for any internet supply decision is to go first to their existing telephone service provider and establish whether that company has any relevant and appropriate bundled services, or to go to their current ISP and determine whether the existing usage plan can be reviewed and upgraded at little or no cost.



ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. To contact him, ph 0413 487 640, email adam@proficio.com.au or see http://proficio.com.au. For more IT in-practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing Department at www.liv.asn.au.

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