Why Dropbox, Google Drive or Sharepoint are inefficient for architects, engineers, and construction staff.
If you’re reading this blog, there is a high chance that you are a key technology decision maker in the Architecture, Engineering or Construction (AEC) industry and you’re hearing continual complaints from your design staff on topics such as:
- Frustration at overwriting each other’s changes on CAD, SolidWorks, or other design files on your shared drive system.
- Continual external reference breaking on the files as they transfer across Dropbox, SharePoint or Google Drive.
- Exasperation at how long it takes to load major CAD or design files up into these shared drives.
- Ability to access this documentation from personal devices or while out on site due to the shared drive crashing.
One of our AEC customers approached us to look for a file sharing solution that overcame some of the frustrations listed above. Their central file management system was on Dropbox which they were running for three years. Upon starting to move some major CAD design files into Dropbox, they came across these three issues:
- Inability to lock files that are “in progress”: our customer’s desire was not to change the file sequentially, but they found continual synchronisations to Dropbox meant that central file data was being corrupted at each sync cycle. Each drawing inside a CAD file is grouped together, so a small sync can corrupt the entire file – therefore file locking was required to create consistency, version control and file corruption control.
- Inconsistency across file paths: These Dropbox files were being accessed on Windows machines, but also shared across Linux and MAC operating systems. This meant that the central file path naming convention would alter and change depending on who was following the file path and from what operating system. For the end user, this meant repeated instances of ‘file not found’ or ‘corrupt link’ notifications.
- Inefficient permissions structure: The confidential nature of some of the design documentation and building IP meant that permissions to specific CAD files needed to be structured in a particular way, according to whoever was accessing it and whether they were a subcontractor or direct employee. Different projects also required different permissions across a range of files. The management and governance of this was increasingly complex and they had repeated breaks in permission control.
What is the cause of these problems?
Many cloud storage solutions use peer-to-peer file synchronisation, which is the design ethos of Dropbox, SharePoint, or Google Drive. In these P2P systems, users can drop files and experience synchronisation with folders on other computers. However, this means limitations occur when files are still in development, or editing, and the sharing of these files outside of the traditional network means shared configuration, permission and version control are often outside of the remit of the actual AEC organisation.
Some AEC organisations have attempted to solve this problem with cloud-based solutions like Panzura, Nasuni and NetApp Global File Cache. The issue is that these solutions are limited to branch-based caching solutions, which are redundant in hybrid working scenarios where users are working from home and having to access files via VPN into their office-based Desktops or into a Virtual Desktop. These are also limited and cost prohibitive.
So, what’s the solution?
We have recently formed a partnership with LucidLink specifically targeted to solve these challenges in the AEC industry. Our service wrapped around LucidLink’s technologies allow our customers to collaborate on shared design projects, in the cloud from any location and through any design applications such as AutoCAD, Autodesk or SolidWorks, for example. Users working on a shared design can now connect seamlessly as if they are co-located, without sacrificing performance.
Specifically, the LucidLink platform is superior to Dropbox, Sharepoint or Google Drive solutions for this type of file sharing because it enables AEC organisations to:
- Enable multiple user access and permissions concurrently access the same Filespace with each user having specific read-only, read-write, or no access at all to individual folders.
- Protect and secure projects by implementing automatic snapshots. These allow users to restore prior versions of either individual files or revert the entire Filespace to an earlier point. All data is encrypted at AES 256 in flight and at rest, and each Filespace entry has its own encryption key.
- Enable global file locking – however, this is supported on Windows operating systems only. File extensions can be specified in LucidLink that enables files that are open for editing to be locked. For example, this is critical with distributed AutoCAD users where users are accessing the same data in a LucidLink Filespace concurrently.
Architectural, Engineering, Design and Construction collaboration and data management as well as the management of plans, specifications, and drawings, can be a big headache for designers, IT teams and capital project owners with frequent or multiple simultaneous projects. Providing access and presenting these documents to users in geographically disparate locations, external suppliers, or joint venture partners is a must, as well as the requirement to control versioning.