Cloud-based storage: sharing and digital archiving for surveyors
Cloud storage provides flexibility. Regardless of physical location, your surveying team can easily access, interact and monitor data and information from almost anywhere. Such easy and stress-free access creates many opportunities to improve existing processes and discover new exciting ones such as in initiatives like BIM (Building Information Modelling).
To bring this about, you need a well-thought-out approach coupled with an easy entry to the use of cloud. The best way is to implement cloud-based file sharing, back-up and archiving.
At as early a stage as possible, you are then in a position to evaluate how your cloud file-sharing and archiving approach fits with the wider options and choices needed to develop a full cloud-based IT approach.
There are four main areas you will immediately benefit when considering cloud-based storage and archive
Wide ranging file sharing
Cloud storage guarantees real-time collaboration between participants. Both in the design phase and the construction phase, you can massively increase the efficiency of your information communication just by sharing files rather than sending them.
Cloud storage makes cross-regional, cross-company work possible. By deploying files in the cloud storage system, you can control which participants can access, modify, and start to manage your information flows.
Data archives are an ideal way to keep older or inactive files on less expensive storage, enabling this data to be deleted from expensive performance-oriented storage. If this archived data needs to be recovered, retrieving it from archival storage is relatively fast and simple.
For example, disputes can one of the biggest financial drains on a surveying practice, and most arise because there isn’t enough evidence for a clear conclusion. When you adopt cloud archiving, there is one source of truth and disputes can become a thing of the past.
Email archiving is especially helpful, since most emails will never change once sent or received. And since emails are most likely to be subject to electronic discovery requests, cloud-based email archiving solutions also make search and retrieval of historical emails extremely easy and efficient.
Access to the latest storage technology
Cloud storage provides a huge pool of elastic resource. You can use what you need and expand and contract your storage as demand changes. This lends itself well to time-based projects such as those in the construction industry.
Different applications have different storage performance requirements. An application that processes massive amounts of point cloud data for example will demand storage performance much greater than for data back-up and archiving. Being able to choose the most appropriate storage for your application needs is one of the great benefits of cloud computing. But getting it wrong can be expensive. Hence the need to start as you mean to go on.
Getting started the right way
Given that Amazon Web Services introduced their cloud storage service S3 in 2006, it is interesting that cloud is still considered as something new. Cloud technology, for various reasons, has taken time to get established – many lessons have been learned and it is worth benefiting from some of the best practice that evolved over that time.
Choose appropriate storage
The key point here is that any given piece of data's storage requirements may change over time, so rather than storing data and forgetting about it, the data has to be monitored and moved to a lower (and lower cost) storage tier.
Typical data classes for this type of “tiered” storage include:
Mission critical data - needed to support high-speed applications – like point cloud registration.
Hot data. - constant use in applications such as project management. Performance is important, but cost is also a consideration.
Warm data - Data on completed, or near-completed, transactions. This type of data will be accessed relatively infrequently but still needs to be readily accessible when required.
Cold data – this data may never be accessed again, but it needs to be archived and retained to comply with regulatory or other legal requirements, Access times of minutes or hours are acceptable, and low cost is a prime consideration. This is where archiving sits.
Constantly manage and review cost
Never assume that “cloud storage is cheap”. There are many not-so-obvious fees with cloud storage, so understanding how the data will be stored, accessed and moved in and, more importantly, out of cloud storage is critical.
All this affects your monthly cost. The most surprising aspect of cloud storage to are the data egress fees. Basically, there is potentially a cost for data transferred out of cloud storage. It's not a hidden fee. But unless you pay attention to how you are accessing your data; those fees can add up.
Get your naming right from the start
A file naming convention (FNC) is important to help you stay organized. It makes it easy to identify the file(s) you are looking for. A good FNC can also help others better navigate to the files that they need.
There are no perfect file naming conventions, and you need to find the right balance of elements that make up your FNC. Too few will create ambiguity; too will make filenames too difficult to maintain and understand. Use meaningful abbreviations and make sure you document your decisions. Most important - file naming conventions break down if not followed consistently. Be sure everyone who needs to use your convention is aware of it and knows how to apply it.
Focus on good housekeeping
Cloud data storage can easily get out of hand. Keeping everything running smoothly is crucial. You should nominate someone, or a team, depending on the size of your project, to manage your cloud storage and back-up. This would include:
- Ensuring you are managing your costs.
- Checking you are backing-up data from the office and the field at the right frequency,
- Putting tests in place to restore your data and pull files from the archive.
- Checking security, access and managing passwords – especially if you are sharing data with partners and others in project.
Make your data storage BIM-ready
BIM (Building Information Management) is the future of construction and storing information is a key aspect of BIM. The amount of data generated by a construction project is huge. The size of BIM data files can easily reach dozens or hundreds of Gbytes.
Cloud storage can solve the BIM information overload storage problem. The low cost of cloud storage can reduce the cost of BIM systems and accelerate its promotion and development. By embracing cloud storage, surveyors can be one step ahead in the move to BIM.
Make your data future-proof
File sharing and archiving are ideal storage applications for the cloud. They don’t need any huge investment and can be actively used for connecting and collaborating with clients and stakeholders.
Transitioning from using local disk to cloud storage can be stressful. Adopting new technologies does come with risks. However, compared to the benefits, the drawbacks are few and can be managed with early planning and forethought.