Chicago law firm clears immigration to the cloud in under a week

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman March 26, 2014
Summary:
Founding partner Ira Azulay used to be a “data snob”, he says - but today he’s glad that a tight budget and a tight deadline forced him down the cloud route.

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Ira Azulay

By his own admission, Ira Azulay used to be a ‘data snob’.

“I simply didn’t believe that any other company would look after our data as well as we could,” he says. “If there was a choice between hosting data ourselves or trusting a third party, I would always, always choose to host it ourselves.”

Given his line of work, that’s hardly surprising. Azulay is a champion of immigrant rights and the founding partner of Chicago-based law firm, Immigration Attorneys. The firm frequently goes head-to-head with the US government, to fight deportation decisions and get a fairer deal for would-be US citizens. That involves keeping sensitive information on complex cases, often involving quite vulnerable people and their dependents.

But when Immigration Attorneys was spun out of a slightly larger law firm in 2011, Azulay and his team had less than a month to find new offices for its four locations - Chicago, Phoenix, Tampa and Milwaukee - and to get equipped with the information and applications they needed.

Azulay’s initial instinct was that they should try to replicate the in-house IT infrastructure familiar from their former firm, but a phone call to Dell quickly revealed that the idea wouldn’t fly.

“The financial outlay involved was significant but, more importantly, as a new business, we had no credit history, so we’d be forced to pay upfront in cash for everything we needed,” says Azulay. “As a new enterprise, with a short window to work in, we knew we had no choice but to look at other architectures.” But time was running out rapidly, he adds.

Head to the clouds

The dilemma led Immigration Attorneys to explore the idea of using a cloud service provider - and forced Azulay to challenge his own preconceptions about cloud security. When staff at one provider, DinCloud, explained to him that the firm could still have its own firewall and a secure VPN [virtual private network] connection from its offices to the infrastructure on which its systems were hosted, he saw the light.

“When I saw for myself the measures that DinCloud took to control access to our data by their own staff, let alone outsiders, I realised that this was a level of protection we could never match ourselves,” he says.

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Equally impressive, according to Azulay, was DinCloud’s willingness to help Immigration Attorneys meet its aggressive deadline to go live with the service in less than a week. That swung the decision firmly in the providers favour.

Lito Santiano, the firm’s IT administrator, shipped an external drive with all of the firm’s data on it to DinCloud on a Friday, and the service went live the following Wednesday. “DinCloud was the only provider we spoke to who could make us that commitment,” says Santiano.

No more snobbery

Today, DinCloud provides Immigration Attorneys’ lawyers and support staff with access to a wide variety of systems and data: not just Microsoft productivity products such as Outlook, Word and Excel, but also its file management system from Autonomy (now owned by HP), its Microsoft Dynamics GP package for financial accounting, and a specialist case-management system, Eimmigration from Cerenade.

With much of the day-to-day IT administration burden now handled by DinCloud’s staff, Santiano’s time has been freed up to explore new projects, both at Immigration Attorneys and for a number of healthcare companies, for whom he works as an independent IT consultant.

“Once the shift to DinCloud was completed, I spoke to Ira about my hope to explore new projects and new clients and he kindly gave his approval for my plan to spend around 20 percent to 25 percent of my time working elsewhere,” says Santiano. “It’s great to have that flexibility - but Ira also knows that, if I’m away from Immigration Attorneys and there’s any IT issue, I can easily get onto my virtual desktop from wherever I am and solve it.”

Likewise, when Chicago was hit by an Arctic blast in January this year, adds Azulay, lawyers and support staff were able to keep working from home, with little disruption to the firm’s day-to-day business.

Today, Azulay certainly doesn’t lose any sleep over the idea of another company hosting the firm’s data. “We feel secure,” he says. “In fact, we feel super-secure.”

He’s now very comfortable with the cloud concept - so much so, he says, that it’s only a matter of time before this former data snob starts exploring the world of  software-as-a-service. “And I’m really looking forward to it,” he adds.