Creating a Different Type of Law Firm: HopgoodGanim and HPE SimpliVity
Walk through the doors of HopgoodGanim, one of Australia's most notable law firms, and you almost immediately notice something is different. Where typical firms are based on a culture of formality and competition, HopgoodGanim has a vibrant culture of what we like to call "business mateship."
This unique approach to working with both our clients and colleagues focuses on collaboration and real friendship. We have tried to break down the traditional barriers between a lawyer and their clients, and instead partner with them to gain a deep understanding of their industry, business, and needs. Rather than simply being their lawyer, is their strategic advisor and their friend.
Technology and Law: A Match Made in Heaven
More than anything, it’s the environment that has kept me there for more than 15 years. That, and the fact that the legal industry has become very pro-technology. Firms are willing to invest in whatever helps them improve the business, their efficiency, and the way they meet a client's needs.
In a paper-heavy business, technology is offering a new legal pen and paper. Without the ability to do business digitally, a lawyer simply can’t compete in an extremely competitive industry. But it isn't just about getting the most expensive kit with the newest software and the shiniest lights; it's about finding technology that will actually deliver better outcomes for our clients. That may look like a faster platform for lawyers to work from or an e-discovery tool that speeds up the litigation process.
When I first started at HopgoodGanim, I was the techy guy running around, by myself, fixing the technology we had. Today, I have a small team who handles the day-to-day function of the IT department, and I focus on evaluating technology to see how it complements the business and helps us grow. Of course, keeping up with trends is never easy. It requires having a great network in place that keeps you abreast of what everyone else is up to. I go to conferences, I read articles, I keep up with the industry news, but I am also a fan of learning from other people's mistakes and sharing my stories.
Going Virtual Is a Process
In 2011, Brisbane was the site of a flood that locked us out of our building for two weeks. Everyone suddenly had to work remotely using Citrix as our remote access tool. Quickly, it became apparent that Citrix was fine—our clients and work weren't affected—but having a PC at the office and a separate system for remote work didn't improve anyone's workflow.
At that point, we started to look around to see how we could unify the two systems. We needed a solution that allowed our lawyers and support staff to use the same system at home as they did at work. We also needed something to help us stay on top of a nasty cyber environment, one that would let us keep a tight hold on our client and lawyer security.
In 2011, we started our virtual transformation with VMware Horizon for their ability to unify the home and work systems into one, familiar platform. Of course, anyone who has worked with VMware Horizon desktops knows that if your underlying storage is not set up correctly, the user experience is terrible.
Initially, we went with an EMC SAN 5300 and it worked well, but after five years we outgrew it. At that point, it was time to review the technology out there and solve how the gear was managed. I looked at outsourcing the desktops completely, but that was not an option with licensing and commercial arrangements.
From there, we looked at Pure Storage, Nimble, EMC VxRail, Nutanix, and HPE SimpliVity. For each solution, I didn’t want to just hear what the sales people told me. I wanted to talk to actual end users and find out what their experience was like. To be honest, every platform had a good story, but we required a hyperconverged solution in the end. That alone narrowed the field to HPE SimpliVity, Nutanix, and the EMC VxRail.
Every solution seemed to have its own advantages, so I began talking to users. I'm a big fan of EMC and I always will be, but I just felt a little uncomfortable with their VxRail solution at that time. Talking to Nutanix customers, they're all very happy, the technology seems pretty sound, and it is a very popular solution. But when I talked with HPE SimpliVity customers, things were different. They were extremely happy and excited. I got a vibe of complete satisfaction that reflected the work HPE SimpliVity engineers were doing on the back end. The security, functionality, and customer service ticked all of the boxes our organization needed, and off we went.
Silence Is Golden
Since implementation in December 2017, I am amazed at how little I think about the system. It is in the backroom, supporting 230 desktops at the same time. My system admin loves it for its speed and security. The kit we picked is solid state, where I/Os are not an issue, and HPE SimpliVity enhances this setup with in-line dedupe of all I/Os improving the all-flash system even more.
The limiting factor with our previous hardware was its speed. Now, we can't even utilize all of the performance the new system has to offer. Of course, going from the old to the new, our versioning is a little behind. We are currently hamstrung by a few applications that can’t run as fast as what the systems can do.
Once we upgrade, our lawyers and their support staff will realize even more benefit from the speed of our new system. In the end, most people in IT know that in the initial phases of an improvement or upgrade, you'll get comments and then silence. I tell my team that silence is a metric of our success. If that’s true, we’re doing extremely well.
Managing the New
Managing the HPE SimpliVity system is done through vSphere, a system we were familiar with since we used VMware. That alone gave us a sense of comfort as we transitioned to a new system. But if we ever run into a problem, we make a support call to HPE SimpliVity and they walk us through the solution.
Even implementation questions can be directed to customer support, and we receive input and feedback. Having professional services to assist us has made managing all of the moving parts that much easier.
Best of all, HPE SimpliVity has an in-house backup solution. Not long ago, we tested it out to see what it could do. It managed to restore an 800 GB server within three minutes, a process that would have taken hours before. Now that the kit is in place, we will enhance our disaster recovery over the next six months. The new technology enables us to improve our RTO and RPO.
We have also noticed significant cost savings in the amount of power our data center uses. We were using five full kilowatts in our data center alone, but with HPE SimpliVity, we’re down to three kilowatts.
A Word of Advice
Going through any implementation, you always learn. Like I said earlier, I love to share my story. As I look back, there are a few pieces of advice I’d pass on to anyone making a similar transformation.
In order to save some money, we reused our existing network switch. In an HPE SimpliVity system, it is important to have good back-end switching. If I had to do it over again, I would have bought new switches. The complexity of having my old and new environments talking together slowed the project down. Start fresh. Don't attempt to save a few dollars by keeping any part of the old system.
Also, be sure you understand your data. We knew the system would perform in-line deduplication and compression on our data, but understanding the data also means knowing what doesn't de-dupe. For example, some Exchange data doesn't de-dupe. We have a document management system that de-dupes itself at the VM-level, so you don't get the savings you might expect. We managed to avoid that because we talked to peers who went down the HPE SimpliVity route before us.
IT's Crystal Ball
A big portion of IT is looking into a crystal ball and predicting what your organization will need three or five years from now. The ability to purchase a system and add to it gives us so much more flexibility without having to turn outward for a new system. It's our own version of in-house outsourcing. Our partnership with HPE SimpliVity has given us more in-house control of an outsourced product, something we never dreamed possible.
Our lawyers need to work without downtime on a system that keeps up with them. You can't have lawyers who can't connect from home, and you can't have lawyers running on a sluggish machine in the office. With a newer kit and newer capacity, we can now begin implementing technology that will complement the services we offer. Finally, IT is doing its part to make HopgoodGanim unlike any other law firm around.