Storage wars: Local physical servers vs cloud-based systems

written by
Alex Hauger
Feb 22, 2024
minutes read

Ensuring that your project information is stored correctly and for the long-term is now an essential standard for AEC firms to consider. With changes in the legislative landscape, PI requirements, the introduction of the Building Safety Act (BSA) and a focus on the golden thread of information—how you store your data is now of fundamental importance.

Securing where your information is stored is also a critical factor as the present-day choice between local physical and cloud-based storage will impact your firm 30 years from now. 

The Building Safety Act (BSA) and the golden thread

The implementation of the BSA in 2022-2023 has shifted the way AEC firms need to think about their project information, with the golden thread’s main principles prioritizing: accurate, trusted, and accessible information to manage building safety, supporting resident assurances, and ensuring a firm's accountability. Serving as a single source of truth, its aim is to promote consistency, record document changes, and maintain longevity of project information.

A crucial factor of the golden thread to consider is the manner and duration of storing project information, as it’s mandated not only by the BSA but also by PI insurance providers.

PI insurance may now require firms to demonstrate their understanding and compliance to the BSA, as the change in legislation exposes firms to higher risks of litigation. The maintenance of project information over long periods of time is a key factor of the BSA and a potential red flag for PI insurers, as many firms still rely on risky physical mediums, such as paper files or actual local servers.

By addressing project information storage methods correctly, AEC firms and professionals can streamline their workflows and reduce admin time and non-compliance panic.

Local physical servers vs cloud-based systems

Local physical servers initially provided firms with the necessary digital upgrade from paper filing that was desperately needed in the AEC industry. However, with the introduction of the cloud and a myriad of cloud-based systems, on-site physical servers have become an outdated method of storage. 

Initial hazards that accompany personal physical servers are physical risks themselves, with exterior damages such as flooding, power surges, and hardware malfunctions rendering the stored information obsolete. There are also no initial parameters in place to monitor how information is being stored, which can lead to a chaotic, unorganized system. 

If a firm is currently maintaining project information on local physical servers, or is planning to, it’s imperative that they write into their contract that they will always be granted access to their information, without any extra or added cost, and that the server provider will guarantee that the information will be held for the next 30 years or more in order to stay compliant with the BSA. 

With a physical storage system, it’s also recommended that you perform annual data checks to ensure that there are no data breaches, issues, or loss of information within the system, as these issues also extend to software, security, and ownership, which falls under the data owner's responsibility to monitor. 

Aside from these initial physical risks, there is also the issue of storage and the servers themselves, as they’re often bulky and require proper specialized maintenance. With technology developing at the same—if not faster—rate, server hardware is guaranteed to become antiquated. In fact, server providers may suddenly charge clients to reboot old systems that are no longer in circulation, or they run the risk of becoming extinct altogether. 

With these rising risks associated with physical, on-site, server-based storage of project information, AEC firms need an all-encompassing alternative.

Enter the cloud.

The cloud has enabled a new level of information storage for AEC firms that aid in compliance with the BSA, with cloud-based systems structured to enable firms with document, drawing and email management services on a durable, encrypted platform. 

The cloud adds an extra layer of dependability for AEC firms as security features and data encryption can prevent data breaches and loss of information, while maintaining the original ownership of the stored information. This guarantee that the data will not be lost due to external factors means that AEC firms don’t need to carry out the annual checks that are recommended for physical servers as it is available there and then. 

Having access to your data storage system instantaneously is favorable for AEC firms, as when those fee claims arise, you have access to information immediately. Document, drawing, and email management systems built on the cloud amplify this accessibility, as having a searchable, organized system specified for the AEC industry streamlines workflows and enables information to be found quickly, reducing the risk of litigation. 

Information longevity: have you secured your legacy?

Ensuring the consistent storage of project data has become essential for AEC firms following the introduction of the BSA and the emphasis on the golden thread, underlining its pivotal role in reducing overall risk and potential litigation within the AEC sector.

With the arrival of cloud technology, traditional local physical servers can now be regarded as high-risk for firms, prompting a necessary shift towards cloud-based storage for critical project information. Developing information management strategies for the long-term sustainability of files should be a top priority for AEC professionals, as those who effectively preserve their information will safeguard their legacy for the next 30 years.

Question time

How effectively are you managing your project information? If you find yourself struggling to answer any of the following questions, you may need to consider implementing a cloud-based system for your own firm:

  1. Have you set up a reliable digital storage system that will keep your information safe, accessible, and secure for the next 30 years?
  1. Are you regularly checking and updating your storage technology to keep up with changes and ensuring your data stays secure?
  1. Are you actively checking and assessing the long-term viability of your storage solutions, considering factors such as technological obsolescence, data format compatibility, and regulatory compliance?
  1. Do you have a robust data backup and disaster recovery plan in place to mitigate the risk of data loss or corruption over the long term?
  1. Have you organized your data in a way that makes it easy to find and use in the future? (E.G. implementing metadata, discoverability, and standardization capabilities)
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