Working in IT consulting, these are just a few of the things we’ve heard from design firms over the last 18 months as we’ve all learned to navigate this pandemic:
- “Everything is sloooowwwww.”
- “We connect over a VPN and we’re losing thousands of dollars due to bogged down connections.”
- “We have to save files on our desktop so we can work outside of the office.”
The key takeaway has been that companies without a solid cloud-first file access strategy struggled the most during lockdown. Now is a great time for companies to nip this in the bud by implementing cloud solutions, especially as the world reopens and working “from the office” resumes (at least in a hybrid fashion).
Implementing Cloud Solutions
This is a good time to be running an Architecture, Engineering or Construction firm. The world is opening up, building design is changing to accommodate so much “new normal,” and housing is being built everywhere. Extend that good cheer to your employees by providing them the best way to work, wherever the job takes them.
When you’re ready to explore cloud solutions, know that our team at LA Creative Technologies offers IT consulting services that can help you make this essential transition.
A Quick Guide to File Storage
By speaking to dozens of design firms, I’ve discovered that this industry has a particularly difficult time landing on the right choice for file storage. This seems to be due to a few primary factors—resistance to change, lack of partnership with an AEC-focused technology provider, vendors offering the wrong solution due to lack of industry knowledge, and budget constraints.
This guide is written from the trenches after years of supporting local design firms that have searched for it and come up empty handed. Below you’ll find a number of different methods that can be used to store files, along with the pros and cons of each method.
- Local Server – NAS (Synology / QNAP) or Windows Server
- Local Server with VPN for Remote Access – Firewall + NAS (Synology / QNAP) or Windows Server
- Cloud Only – Public (Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive, Box)
- Cloud Only – Egnyte (via LACT)
- Hybrid – Dropbox/Synology
- Hybrid – Egnyte (via LACT)
Local Server – NAS (Synology / QNAP) or Windows Server
This first option is the tried and true forever-classic of the design world. Throw a Windows or Synology server in a closet, plug it in, point your computers at it and BINGO you’ve got files available to get to work on. This is still by far the most common file storage method we see in use, from the sole proprietor all the way up to Enterprise firms.
- This option is an affordable quick fix.
- It’s also easy to manage, which makes it especially appealing to architecture firms.
- Most people are already somewhat familiar with local-only options.
- However, there’s a clear lack of collaboration.
- It’s more vulnerable to ransomware and attacks because it has a single point of failure and must be maintained by your firm for security.
- This option isn’t good for Work-from-Home or Hybrid situations.
- It requires an office with a network.
- FTP/WeTransfer is necessary to send large files.
This Solution is Best for sole proprietors who have a physical office network, and don’t need the option to work remotely.
Local Server with VPN for Remote Access – Firewall + NAS (Synology / QNAP) or Windows Server
The exact same as the above — but accessed remotely. We see this a lot with larger firms that are heavily invested into their infrastructure, and want to retain control over how employees are accessing data. Often the data is on a Windows Server, though we have seen this with NAS drives as well.
- This option is an affordable quick fix.
- This leverages existing infrastucture — servers and Firewalls – to provide remote access.
- Most people are already familiar with these options.
- The big one — this is a slow option. We hear a lot about staff on very fast GPU-laptops who still have trouble working due to VPN speeds.
- It’s more vulnerable to ransomware and attacks because it access to work network happens from remote and home networks.
- This is remote access without the benefits of cloud — sending links to large files, consultant collaboration, etc
- It requires an office with a network.
This Solution is Best for large firms with specific compliance needs (though even those are better served with Virtual Desktop) or micro firms that can’t invest in alternate remote access solutions.
Cloud Only – Public (Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive, Box)
This is the second most common solution that we see deployed. Generally, the founder of a firm was already using one of these solutions or began to use it when the firm was started. This option may be suitable for a sole proprietor, especially one who doesn’t want to maintain a local network at their home or office, but it becomes more complicated as the team grows.
- One of the main benefits is that it’s often already in use.
- It’s a familiar choice, so there’s no struggle with implementing it.
- If cutting costs is important, it’s an affordable solution.
- It’s better in terms of collaboration, but still not great for working with design apps.
- As mentioned above, the integration is simple and straightforward.
- With the exception of Dropbox or Google, it can become pricey as teams grow over time.
- It’s not ideal for the more complex design apps that are commonly needed in architecture firms.
- There’s no setting that allows you to lock files- resulting in conflicted copies of CAD, Adobe etc files
- There is no way to work with REVIT Models
- These providers have limited auditing of file access, file deletion etc – with GOOGLE being the worst in this regard.
- Some of these providers – especially Google – have poor ability to recover from mass file deletion events.
This solution is best for a sole proprietor who requires remote work flexibility and doesn’t have a physical office network.
Cloud Only – Egnyte (via LACT)
This is our preferred storage method for most smaller Architecture firms. It keeps all of the benefits of the Public cloud providers, while adding in the ability for File Locking on AutoCAD and Adobe files, collaboration on REVIT files and a host of other features of benefit to AEC firms.
- This solution is better suited for working with AutoCAD, Revit, etc.
- It has settings that allow files to be locked on more design apps than other choices.
- Easily map drive letters (P: drive etc) to Egnyte folders, making it easier for your staff when replacing traditional file servers.
- Deep Integrations are possible, even with Microsoft and Google tools.
- Very rich logging for file access, modification, deletion etc
- This solution can also become pricey as the company grows.
- It usually requires a migration to get into it.
- It’s not capable of integrating with consumer NAS.
This option is ideal for for teams that rely heavily on collaboration and want to use the best cloud storage method for AEC without maintaining a local server.
Hybrid – Dropbox/Synology
This method ties Public Cloud together with NAS — any files saved either locally or in the cloud will (fairly) quickly sync between the two. We’re not a huge fan of this method but it does solve the issue of providing a local backup of cloud files and rapid access to files while working on site.
- Affordable method to provide “hybrid” (cloud and local) access to files
- Very reasonable price compared to other options
- No file locking – people will often end up with multiple “conflict” copies if some staff are onsite and some are working from the cloud
- Lost “right click” options like right clicking to create a link and share files with others
- Limited support from NAS vendors to solve issues with local access.
This solution is best for micro-sized firms that want a true local “server” experience and can deal with lack of file locking and right-click actions..
Hybrid – Egnyte (via LACT)
This is our favorite cloud method for AEC for firms with a physical office as they grow about 10 or so users. This combines all the benefits of the Egnyte cloud with the additional of lightning-fast file access while staff are onsite at the office. Additionally, the server this solution runs on can be used for other server-specific tasks (backup, print reporting) which is handy when replacing aging infrastructure.
- Whether in or out of the office, it works exactly the same way. It guarantees that in-office speeds are best, and no adjustment is necessary when leaving.
- This option gives you the ability to keep local content at multiple offices, with real time file locking options. It replaces Windows DFS.
- This solution can get pricey as it requires additional hardware and storage space.
- This solution requires supporting an on-site server
This option is ideal for AEC firms with one or multiple physical offices, with over 10 people and staff working regularly out of the office. Additional benefits come with ability to leverage the host server for backups and other purposes.
Honorable Mention: CentreStack
When it comes to providing secure access and file sharing, CentreStack deserves an honorable mention as well. CentreStack can boost mobile flexibility while keeping some security measures in place.
Honorable Mention: Autodesk Docs / BIM360
No AEC-focused storage article would be complete without mentioning these methods provided by Autodesk themselves. We find these are best for collaboration on specific projects, rather than as a location for storing all of your firm’s files. Some firms who use NAS or Public Cloud (Dropbox) etc also use BIM360 specifically to store Revit models, since those don’t work well when stored on these methods.
Do You Need IT Consulting?
At LA Creative Technologies, we’re proud to work alongside the local architecture firms that serve our community. Spend more time on design and less time on day-to-day admin tasks by outsourcing your IT consulting. To learn more, get in touch with us today by calling (323) 250-9112.