Law firm raises bar on its productivity

Toronto-based law firm Goodman and Carr LLP has doubled its effort to increase productivity and availability for clients — literally.

The firm recently built a remote data centre west of the city, which is a replica of its main e-mail and document management system at its head office. The two centres mirror each other on a minute-by-minute basis, so that for each document transaction that takes place on the main system, the twin data centre is updated almost in real time, said Mark Bonner, director of IT at Goodman and Carr.

Goodman and Carr’s co-location is outsourced to Mississauga, Ont.-based Fusepoint Managed Services, which provides the infrastructure as well as 24/7 monitoring and management of the duplicate system. The objective is to provide lawyers and clients always-available access to information, a critical element in the legal profession, said Bonner.

The law firm uses replication technology called Neverfail, which enables the seamless flow of information between the two data centres, said Bonner. “As soon as Neverfail detects that Microsoft Exchange is not working or the document management system or the BlackBerry Enterprise system is not working, it will fail over (to the replica site) immediately.”

Goodman and Carr’s IT environment is primarily Windows-based, run by a team of nine IT professionals led by Bonner. The firm uses Interwoven for its document management system, and both Microsoft Exchange Server and BlackBerry Enterprise Server for e-mail.

The remote co-location project with Fusepoint began three months ago and was completed in three weeks. Much of the implementation work involved getting all the existing e-mail and document files properly replicated, added the IT executive.

For the most part, the implementation has been “pretty smooth” for Bonner’s team. And that has a lot to do with recent improvements in the data replication technology, he said.

Until a year ago, Bonner explained, replication technology lacked the efficiency to transfer data from the co-location site to the main date centre for updating after a failover situation.

“Oftentimes, (organizations) would delay and delay and delay in declaring an emergency or disaster because it was very difficult to get information back from their co-location site and updating the main site,” he said.

Newer replication technologies like Goodman and Carr’s version of Neverfail, however, are facilitating a more efficient streaming of data between the main site and the co-location centre, said Bonner.

Goodman and Carr’s Neverfail system automatically replicates all data that goes into the e-mail and document management systems, and updates both sites to ensure that they consistently mirror each other. Goodman and Carr previously relied on tapes for backing up its data.

This method, however, was proving to be inefficient with volumes of documents at the law firm continuously growing. To date, document count at the firm has reached almost 3.5 million, said Bonner.

Demands from clients wanting an assurance that the company had business continuity plans in place in the event of a disruption drove Goodman and Carr to improve its backup strategy, he said.

Business continuity also became a necessity, especially after the firm opened up an online portal where clients can log in and access documents, explained Bonner. “It’s [no longer] enough for us (in IT) to just deal with our own lawyers; we have to deal with clients as well in providing access to them.”

The recognition that users today have higher expectations around system availability and information accessibility is also driving the adoption of business continuity frameworks in the legal industry, said Bonner.

“A year or two ago, it would have been acceptable to have your e-mail system down for half a day; that’s not acceptable anymore,” he said.

The duplicate data centre also allows Bonner’s IT team to conduct system maintenance and health checks without disrupting the work of users by quickly failing over to the Fusepoint-managed site, Bonner noted.

With a backup data centre at Fusepoint’s Mississauga facility, Goodman and Carr is now less concerned about the prospect of a disaster or disruption, said Fusepoint CEO and president George Kerns.

Fusepoint’s data centre in Mississauga is equipped with multiple power generators and multiple fuel tanks onsite that allow the managed service provider to maintain uninterrupted service in the event of a power failure.

“If your (IT) infrastructure [fails], and you have replicated all your [systems offsite], your employees could sit at home and, with Internet connectivity, continue to operate as if they were in their office building,” said Kerns.

Kerns added that business continuity solutions are increasingly being adopted in the legal profession, as well as in other professional services industries, enabling greater productivity and access to critical information.

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