A professional services firm, eClaris Software specializes in eDiscovery consulting. It wanted to expand its offerings in the legal field to include software solutions, beginning with PHIGRID, a legal project management application that it intended
to host for customers. eClaris engaged Microsoft Partner Network member Hanu Software to build PHIGRID into a commercial application. Hanu suggested that eClaris migrate PHIGRID to Windows Azure to avoid purchasing and managing on-premises server and storage
infrastructure, which had become a serious barrier to marketing the new product. This move avoided upfront IT expenses of more than US$1 million, reduced time to market by 25 percent, and improved customer service. For eClaris, embracing Microsoft cloud services
was a key step in launching a new line of business to increase market share and differentiate its offerings in the legal field.
Consultants at eClaris Software provide assistance to law firms, legal departments, and government agencies that need to collect, process, and review electronically stored information for legal purposes. The company also helps law firms and corporations
adapt to the boom in social media and cloud computing that bring additional challenges to managing digital evidence. These projects can involve processing up to 60 terabytes of data. “We differentiate ourselves through our ability to rapidly process multiple
terabytes of data for customers,” says eClaris Software Founder and President, Jacques Nack Ngue. “We get the digital evidence that law firms and corporate legal counsel are looking for―whether it’s stored in email archives, databases, hard drives, or mobile
phones―and present it for review by legal teams.”
Origins of a New Product
As the company’s ability to process data increased, so did the complexity of its customer engagements, and it was becoming difficult to run multiple projects consecutively. eClaris evaluated off-the-shelf project management solutions, but they did not address
the regulatory requirements around eDiscovery. So eClaris built a basic, proprietary solution to manage customer engagements, and to allocate resources and track costs for each project. It was then that Ngue saw an opportunity to develop the company’s solution
to become a commercially viable product.
||The scalability and flexibility of Windows Azure means we can increase our customer count with minimal impact on the cost of doing business: for us that equates to higher profit margins.
| Jacques Nack Ngue
Founder and President, eClaris Software
“Many companies manage their legal projects through phone calls and spreadsheets; that’s not an efficient way to deal with huge amounts of digital evidence and tight deadlines,” he says. “New legal guidelines for eDiscovery are emerging all the time, and it’s
difficult to ensure that specific processes are always followed correctly. Our legal project management solution could herald a new line of business and strategic direction for the company―from professional services company to software provider. But first
we needed help building up the solution to meet the demands of our customers.”
Ngue found that help when he met Anil Singh, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Hanu Software, on a flight to New York. Hanu Software is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, with Gold competency in Web Development. Ngue saw that the company’s experience
in developing solutions using Microsoft .NET software made it an ideal candidate for helping eClaris create a marketable legal project-management application. In February 2010, Hanu developers began writing the application, dubbed PHIGRID, in Microsoft ASP
.NET, a web application framework that’s a component of the Microsoft .NET Framework 4. “Hanu had the core competency to deliver what we envisioned,” says Ngue. “They conducted the software development effort in a very professional way; everything was well
documented and executed.”
Another Hosting Option
However, soon after work began, software companies began to offer cloud-based application platforms. Designed to support highly scalable, reliable applications, these platforms allow companies to run code and store data in Internet-accessible data centers.
Hanu began talking to eClaris about the potential of hosting PHIGRID on cloud platform technology. The company had planned to host PHIGRID at its own data center, and Ngue liked the idea of avoiding the significant costs of acquiring the infrastructure to
support the new product. However, he was skeptical.
“The whole cloud aspect, especially because of the debate around cross-border data transmission and data ownership, creates resistance for many legal firms,” Ngue says. “I wanted to reduce the cost of bringing PHIGRID to market, but we would have to find
the right cloud platform to overcome the concerns of my potential customers.”
After comparing cloud services providers, eClaris chose Windows Azure, a Windows environment which provides on-demand compute, storage, and networking capabilities to host, scale, and manage web applications running in Microsoft data centers. “Unlike Windows
Azure, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud required some form of server maintenance, and it didn’t offer the same level of integration with on-premises solutions,” says Ngue. He adds, ”When we reached out for information, the Microsoft team showed more support and
interest in helping us achieve our business goals. They reviewed our deployment scenarios and made sure that we would end up with a solution that supported our business model.”
||Our legal project management solution could herald a new line of business and strategic direction for the company―from professional services company to software provider.
| Jacques Nack Ngue
Founder and President, eClaris Software
So, Ngue asked Hanu to port PHIGRID to Windows Azure. In March 2011, Hanu migrated the existing .NET code to Windows Azure and then finished developing PHIGRID as a Microsoft cloud services solution. It was ready to launch in July 2011. “Hanu was an essential
part of our ability to execute this project and even though this is only version one and there is much work to do, they got us to where we are now.”
PHIGRID runs in 16 Windows Azure instances and takes advantage of all three types of data storage in Windows Azure. For relational data, PHIGRID uses SQL Database, a cloud-based, self-managed database service. For fast access to large amounts of simple, typed
data, it uses Tables. And the “Document Library” feature within PHIGRID takes advantage of blobs, a storage option designed for unstructured data.
Cloud Services for the Legal Market
eClaris chose Windows Azure because it offers highly secure, isolated hosted environments, and networking, connection, and identity management services that it saw as a competitive advantage for PHIGRID. “Windows Azure has features that would overcome resistance
to cloud computing within the legal field,” says Ngue. “Law firms don’t want their data to mingle with other entities, and they prefer to integrate any new software with what they already have running behind the firewall. One of the direct benefits of hosting
PHIGRID on Windows Azure is that we can offer dedicated virtual environments for each customer, along with the ability to run their own schema in their own customized database.”
Another feature, Windows Azure Connect, would satisfy law firms’ preference for interoperable systems. Using Windows Azure Connect, eClaris can easily establish an IPsec connection between an instance of PHIGRID running in the cloud and any on-premises computer,
or endpoint, at a law firm that runs the Windows operating system. eClaris can also use Windows Communication Foundation, a component of the .NET Framework, to create services in Windows Azure that customers can install on computers behind their firewall to
facilitate communication with PHIGRID. Security concerns around application authentication can be addressed through Access Control Service, a component of Windows Azure, cloud-based infrastructure services for applications running in the cloud. Access Control
Service could be configured to allow PHIGRID to accept logons using a law firm’s Active Directory Domain Services, the directory service that is an integral feature of the Windows operating system. And to ensure performance and reliability, eClaris can optimize
performance using Traffic Manager to route application requests to other less busy instances of the PHIGRID application.
“Windows Azure came with a lot of infrastructure services that gave me the assurance I needed to adopt the cloud as a way to offer PHIGRID to the market,” says Ngue. “And I can tell law firms what they want to hear about security and reliability: Windows Azure
runs two or more instances of each application―and replicates data three times―for a greater level of security and redundancy than we could have provided hosting it on-premises.”
eClaris offers small, medium, or large subscriptions to PHIGRID, with a minimum of five users and a 1-gigabyte database. Since January 2012, 14 new customers have purchased subscriptions, and today, there are 48 instances of PHIGRID running in the cloud. “To
give law firms more control over their PHIGRID applications, such as adding and deleting users, we created a ‘Manage my License’ feature,” says Ngue. “We can even give customers the ability to remotely log on to the virtual machine that hosts their instance
of PHIGRID in Windows Azure, something we couldn’t have done with the other cloud platforms.”
The decision to run PHIGRID on Windows Azure helped to move eClaris in the direction envisioned by Ngue, enabling the company to cost-effectively offer competitive software solutions that evolve out of the collective knowledge of its consultants. The move also
helped eClaris to mitigate the risk of bringing a product to market by avoiding large upfront capital costs. The company is also reducing the sales cycle, improving customer service, and building its competitive advantage. “The scalability and flexibility
of Windows Azure means we can increase our customer count with minimal impact on the cost of doing business: for us that equates to higher profit margins,” says Ngue.
Avoids $1 Million in Capital Expense
By moving PHIGRID to Microsoft cloud computing, eClaris has a cost-effective, flexible, and attractive software delivery method for law firms interested in its legal project management solution. “Running PHIGRID in the Windows Azure environment means that we
saved at least [US]$500,000 in infrastructure costs, and to build the necessary redundancy into the environment, we’d have to double that investment,” says Ngue. “Adding storage costs takes the figure out of the ball park.”
Reduces the Sales Cycle by 25 Percent
Because Windows Azure takes care of setting up and monitoring the computing environment for PHIGRID, eClaris can offer its clients a 30-day trial for the product. This is an important advantage for the legal market, where potential customers tend to be conservative
when acquiring new technology.
||Unlike Windows Azure, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud required some form of server maintenance, and it didn’t offer the same level of integration with on-premises solutions.
| Jacques Nack Ngue
Founder and President, eClaris Software
“It means a lot to the director of litigation support to hear that he can try our product in a matter of minutes,” says Ngue. “We quickly create an encapsulated system with the ability to customize the encryption and secure it to the level that the customer
wants. Compared to convincing a law firm to try our product by shipping them a CD that they have to install on their hardware, we have shortened our sales cycle by 25 percent.”
Reduces Application Management
When a customer purchases a subscription to PHIGRID, Windows Azure monitors the services to ensure instances are always running and it applies security updates and system upgrades to the underlying operating system. “eClaris resources needed to monitor the
Windows Azure environment are zero,” says Ngue. “For PHIGRID, we can easily deploy upgrades with virtually no downtime for the customer. We deploy the new version into a customer’s hosted environment as a staging instance and then into production by switching
IP addresses—for just one client, or all of them.”
Improves Customer Service
Offering fast access to a trial version of PHIGRID and providing seamless updates to new versions are just two ways that eClaris is providing more responsive customer service. Thanks to the connectivity services in Windows Azure, eClaris can assure customers
that their sensitive data remains highly secure. “When you have to retrieve .pst [personal storage table] files from a company’s CEO to present to the Federal Communications Commission, the tools you have available in a traditional hosted environment mean
that sensitive data might have to migrate to a public environment, where it’s not safe,” says Ngue. “But in Windows Azure, we can build a service that the customer installs on its own computers to monitor the .pst files. So instead of copying the entire file
to the blob, it transmits only the information that’s required by the project manager.”
The company has already used Traffic Manager to improve performance for a customer in the Los Angeles area that was experiencing latency issues on one instance of its PHIGRID application. It also expects to resolve customer issues faster. “If we experience
a problem, we know that Microsoft support is there to tell us quickly if the issue is within the Windows Azure environment, or with our application. If we need to fix something quickly, it helps to cut down the places to look for the issue.”
Increases Competitive Advantage
Since migrating PHIGRID to Windows Azure, eClaris developers can focus more on achieving the company’s strategic business goal: to differentiate itself through innovative software solutions for the legal market. “Running PHIGRID on-premises would have been
a monumental amount of work. Now, all we have to think about is the application code itself―how to make the product better, and how to develop new offerings to compete in the marketplace,” concludes Ngue. “Windows Azure is a business enabler.”
For More Information
Windows Azure is a development, service hosting, and service management environment. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through
Microsoft data centers.
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