Court Executives (Should) Have Their Heads in the Clouds

The launch this month of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7, marks the end of one era of information technology and the start of another, says the Economist (“Briefing Cloud Computing,” October 17, 2009). Windows is not going to disappear but it will be much less important in the future.

Cloud Computing

Much of the computing we do today on our computers in our homes and offices will soon be – so to speak - in the “clouds,” and not on our personal computers, where Windows resides today. Instead, desktop computing on personal computers – featuring full-featured database and spreadsheet capabilities – is being replaced by IT architectures that call for the heavy lifting to be performed by external data centers accessible to us over the Internet.

Cloud computing is attracting an enormous amount of attention. The term “cloud computing” is a metaphor that originated with IT architects who routinely used cloud shapes to depict the flow of data from unknown external sources instead of the squares, rectangles and cylinders representing internal servers, storage disks, and databases they used to represent internal sources.

We are already familiar with cloud computing technology, though we may not have grasped its revolutionary significance. Widely used services like Twitter, YouTube, Skype, and Google’s Gmail, Docs, and Spreadsheets are all built on cloud computing technology. They deliver content and services to our computers, smart phones, and other devices from external sources

An Attractive Option for Cash Strapped Courts

Chief information technology officers see in cloud computing the promise of lower costs, less complexity and work for their IT departments. Cloud computing enables a court to tap into computing, storage systems, and software applications like performance dashboards and other business intelligence over the Internet.

At least in theory, cloud computing technology all but eliminates the burden of software installation, maintenance, ongoing operation, and support. Coming up with new software versions or changing requirements is taken care of the by the service provider. Costs are a continuous expense, rather than a single expense at time of purchase.

Cloud computing lets courts avoid building their own performance dashboards and associated technology architecture. They pay only for the services they need, when they need them. Both big and small corporate computer and software vendors that have a presence in the court community will soon be offering performance dashboards based in cloud computing technology.

One company, Threshold CS, based in Clearwater, Florida, makes its court performance dashboard, Justice PM (Performance Measurement) available both as a traditional client site installation and as a cloud computing service (Threshold calls it by its antecedent name, Software as Service or SaaS). For a monthly subscription fee, after a brief data linkage to the court’s source (legacy) systems, a court’s performance data is automatically uploaded to Threshold’s data center and the performance dashboard is accessible to court users via a secure Web interface.

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