Law Firm Makes a Case for IT Consolidation

By Samuel Greengard

Few organizations are forced to manage as many documents—including highly sensitive files—as law firms. Ensuring that all the information is available and secure is an enormous challenge. But there’s also the task of preventing data sprawl and building out storage systems that are highly efficient. “Information technology is at the core of effective business,” says Searl Tate, director of network engineering at Los Angeles-based law firm Paul Hastings.

The firm, which operates in 20 cities globally and employs more than 2,500—including about 1,000 attorneys—found itself coping with sprawl and other IT inefficiencies a few years ago. The organization had built out four primary data center hubs and a variety of smaller data facilities in offices, some of them no more than a dedicated physical server in a room. “There was a clear need for consolidation and improvements in performance,” Tate explains.

The IT team knew something had to change. “The question we asked was: ‘How can we fortify the co-locations and data centers we feel are most exposed while managing costs more effectively?’ ” says Tate. “We recognized that it is impossible to use Tier 2 and Tier 3 storage and expect Tier 1 performance. We needed to put the heaviest hitting I/O requirements at the major data centers and have peripheral services running on fairly lightweight equipment.”

Paul Hastings turned to Riverbed Technology to centralize storage and boost WAN optimization as well as security. The law firm—with more than 100 million active documents in circulation—established goals of streamlining resources, reducing costs, and boosting archiving and backup capabilities. Riverbed’s SteelFusion solution, which is now live across the entire firm (and spans three continents), allows Paul Hastings to optimize data flow through a collection of SAN and NAS devices. As a result, small branch offices that in the past couldn’t tap into advanced storage capabilities can now enjoy big office performance. SteelFusion uses a converged architecture to replicate data across offices—and in the process it optimizes bandwidth.

As a result, Paul Hastings was able to uninstall more expensive Tier 1 storage devices that weren’t located at its data hubs. The technology platform makes it appear as though applications and documents are stored locally rather than at central data hubs, Tate notes. The SteelFusion system also relies on snapshots to generate a greater number of recovery points. All data is encrypted to protect the company if a server or storage device is stolen or lost. Tate says the solution has made it easier to plug in different generations and iterations of tools and technologies, including document management systems, Exchange Server, Outlook and various client tools. “There have been cascading benefits,” he points out.

All of this has saved space and money—and helped the firm adopt a greener approach to IT. “These efforts have resulted in a meaningful and measurable change,” Tate says. “Using well-accepted Department of Energy calculations, we have identified more than 1,000 metric tons of CO2 reduction and nearly $200k in annual power savings.”

Tate sees the transition to a converged architecture as nothing less than revolutionary. “We have raised our IT performance to a new level while achieving a high level of confidence in our ability to protect our data and resources.”

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, “Tompkins County Crumples the Paper Jam,” click here.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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