[This post originally appeared on Slaw.ca, April 18, 2013]
Lawyers rely on an invisible infrastructure to power their law firms. Once those wires leave your computer and hit the wall, you cede control to others. Even if you haven’t shifted any part of your practice to the cloud, you may have file or e-mail servers inside your firm that are managed by others. We can use status dashboards and related information to warn us when things have gone awry in our digital world.
Your Apps Status
A tremor runs through cyberspace when Google Mail goes offline and social networks light up with virtual handwringing. Your first awareness may be the lack of e-mail flowing into your inbox or your inability to access the Mail Web site. You can confirm your fears by accessing the Google Apps status dashboard. It monitors a variety of Google services and can be a reliable indicator of what’s going on.
Microsoft users can access the Live Status site to see how Outlook.com and Skydrive, among others, are faring. There are similar dashboards for cloud services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. Even if your law firm doesn’t use cloud directly, you may be using a cloud service that runs on either Microsoft’s or Amazon’s cloud.
Cloud-based services are likely to offer status dashboards; see Clio, Twitter, Evernote, OpenDNS, for examples. Sometimes the status dashboard is inside the application – like Microsoft Office365 – which is fine, so long as you can hit the site. It can eliminate the support calls they would otherwise get – “are you up, I can’t access my account” – but also may increasingly be a customer expectation. If your service doesn’t have a dashboard, you can use a crowd-sourced option like Downrightnow.com which monitors social media and e-mail services.
If you’re more technically inclined, you can create your own. Open source Stashboard has instructions on how to create your own Web-based dashboard. It can connect to other cloud services that offer an application programming interface (API). If you are using a service that has an API but not a status monitor, this may be a way for your law firm to keep tabs on the service.
One of the reasons there is an expectation is because internal IT teams have routinely done this monitoring themselves. Someone, somewhere, is measuring and monitoring your servers’ “up time” because downtime will usually translate into lost dollars. If your law firm has moved any of its systems to externally hosted servers, in the cloud or not, your IT staff will be ensuring they are running properly.
You can monitor servers – any servers – using a variety of tools. Not only can this warn you about outages that are directly affecting you, it can give you additional information about your server availability. For example, if your law firm’s e-mail server crashed and restarted last night, how would you know about it?
You may not have experienced the outage directly but it may be that someone needs to look at that server. Windows servers come with their own monitoring tools and that may provide you all the information you need on what’s running – or not – on a given machine. There are many other server monitoring applications , including Android and iOS apps, and, if you have a tech consultant or IT staff, they probably have a favorite. These can provide a window on your internal systems and their availability.
You can also watch external sites. A good example of this is Monitor.us is a useful site that I use for monitoring the availability of Web sites. The free version will check the site every 30 minutes, while the paid version checks it every minute. It can also be configured to watch your internal servers and send you outage messages when it can’t reach them. Other services include Wormly and Uptrends.
I Can Look Out the Window
You may not see a need for a status update, particularly if you have someone monitoring your systems for you. In particular, if you can’t reach a site, you already know it’s unavailable to you. It’s like a weather report – you can always look out the window to see if it’s raining. If you find that you aren’t able to connect to a server or system, the outage may be occurring at any one of a number of places. A status monitoring tool or dashboard can help you to know whether the problem is on your end or not.
For example, if you are attempting to connect to a service and it says it is running, it may be that something on your computer or network (internal or Internet service provider) could be blocking your ability to access the site. One example of this would be an e-mail program like Outlook that is trying to connect securely, but your network is blocking that secure access.
The increasing availability of Web-based monitoring information can be useful for both real-time understanding of why we can’t reach a site we need. It can also be a way for us to monitor the uptime – and claims of uptime – for the services on which we rely.