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I.T in practice: Well connected

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(3) LIJ, p. 91

If practices decide what they want from their Internet service before the connection is established they can reduce the potential for confusion.

When a practice is connected to the Internet, the complexity increases as the firm enlarges its level of web presence. When going from a simple Internet connection through to domain name registration, then to mail and web services, making the correct decisions early can help immensely with cost, simplicity and manageability.

An Internet service provider (ISP) is an organisation that provides the immediate connection between a practice’s internal computer systems and those on the Internet. This service may be through a dial-up modem or, more commonly, a high-speed broadband (DSL) line.

Each computer connected to the Internet has an identifying number – an IP address – so that it can communicate with other computers. If you have a dedicated connection to the Internet and you never go offline, you could have a static IP address. A static IP address is essential if you are hosting many of your own services, as discussed below. It is a virtual necessity to pair a static IP address with a strong firewall. If you are using a dial-up account, you are usually given a different number each time you connect to the Internet, called a dynamic IP address.

To be known on the web as, say xyzlaw.com.au, an organisation needs to register that domain name with a suitably authorised domain name registrar.[1] This registration is primarily designed to establish a link between the name xyzlaw.com.au and the mechanism that computers use to access http://www.xyzlaw.com.au[2] or send mail to john@xyzlaw.com.au or info@xyzlaw.com.au.

Accessing the Internet requires that computers know each other’s IP address, which is similar to a computer telephone number. The computer equivalent to directory assistance is known as a domain name service (DNS). As part of the registration of a firm’s domain name, it is necessary to identify the IP address of the DNS host computer. Quite often the organisation which provides the domain name registration facility can act as a firm’s DNS host. Alternatively, ISPs often provide a DNS hosting facility.

A mail host is the computer where a firm’s emails are stored, sent to and retrieved from. Although this can be managed by a third party, most firms with more than a handful of staff will prefer to host their own mail server internally. Usually, this will require a static IP address because the computers on the Internet will need to know precisely where xyzlaw.com.au’s emails are to be sent. Some ISPs do not provide static IP addresses – for this reason it is important to carefully consider your longer-term objectives when selecting an ISP. Mail hosts can be established outside the firm. However, having an internal mail host allows the integration of calendar and meeting scheduling, task lists, contact databases and mail message archiving.

The website host is the organisation whose computer holds the web information for the practice. For example, when www.xyzlaw.com.au is typed into a web browser, the information on the website is retrieved from the organisation that is hosting that website. Most often practices prefer not to have this running on their internal computers. To make matters more confusing, websites often may not be hosted by the same organisation as that which maintains the information contained on a firm’s website. Also, in line with the internationalisation of the web, the actual website may be hosted anywhere in the world. Local web maintainers sometimes prefer to use offshore web hosts due to cost savings.

Thankfully, some ISPs package up many of the above services using an easy-to-use tool. It is only where a practice wishes to enhance its client service offerings using Internet tools that it must move away from these standard packaged solutions and manage some of the more complex elements. Often a short meeting with your chosen IT consultant will clarify these elements and help set a strong foundation for future initiatives.

“To do” List

• For each of the areas in this article, note down which organisation manages this service, the key contact details and any relevant IP addresses.

• Find out which of these services can be hosted by your ISP.

• When hosting your own mail server and/or web server, try to obtain a static IP address from your ISP and install a firewall facility.

• Work out early where your strategic Internet presence objectives lie, and establish appropriate directions.

• Try to clarify for yourself, in plain English, some of the intensely jargon-laden processes involved with Internet set-ups.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm.

For more I.T. in practice information, see the contributions of the Law Institute Legal Practice Management Committee and IT special projects department at http://www.liv.asn.au/sections/lpms_it.

itcolumn@liv.asn.au


[1] For a list of authorised registrars, see http://www.auda.org.au/registrars.

[2] See http://www.auda.org.au/help/basics/

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