Engineering Data Growth: The March is On

Today's companies need document management systems that enable access, security and protection, as well as a means of archiving valuable layers of intellectual property that have grown through the years.

Today's companies need document management systems that enable access, security and protection, as well as a means of archiving valuable layers of intellectual property that have grown through the years.

By Jim Romeo

From office furniture to conveyor belts, forgings, castings and a host of other products, durable goods manufacturer JSJ Corp. ran into the same problem many industrial firms face daily: so many people using so much data in so many places. Headquartered in Grand Haven, MI, JSJ’s design teams are dispersed in about 28 locations around the world, and its 95 years in business means the company has an arsenal of intellectual capital to not just draw from, but to protect.

The march of engineering data is on, and solutions that accommodate it are emerging. For the engineering design community, such data is big business, with big choices.

Nasuni’s cloud-integrated storage solution looks and feels just like the network attached storage it’s been using for decades, but makes possible features such as fast access to a global fileshare from any location, unlimited capacity, automatic backup and data protection, and centralized management of the global storage infrastructure. This screenshot shows how IT can manage global storage through the Nasuni Management Console.

“The growth of engineering files is a huge problem—not to mention the burgeoning size of the files themselves,” says Andres Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Nasuni, a company specializing in enterprise data storage technologies based in Natick, MA. Nasuni helped JSJ improve upon their data strategies.

“Capacity, of course, is a problem, but so is access, especially given that most large industrial and engineering companies have international teams that need to work on the same files,” Rodriguez points out. “Putting the cost of bandwidth aside, the files are so large that conventional WAN acceleration and replication systems can’t provide the performance that a globally distributed team needs.”

According to Robert Sobers, director of inbound marketing for Varonis—a company specializing in data storage, access and protection—document management can be a confusing term because there are technologies known as “Document Management Systems.” However, managing documents well does not require that they be placed in specialized repositories.

“Most enterprise documents are stored in unstructured repositories like file shares, intranets and email, and documents in these repositories can be better managed through the use of metadata,” explains Sobers. “Metadata, when combined with big data analytics, provides needed insight and control while retaining, and even enhancing the accessibility of traditional file stores. Good document management for these systems can lead to more productivity, with less risk and less cost.”

According to Rodriguez, cloud storage offers a bright future. “Raw cloud storage, however, isn’t enough,” he says. “The services offered by the large public cloud storage providers are the 21st century equivalent of commodity hard drives. No one would buy a pallet of hard drives and start putting enterprise data on them.

Varonis’ products allow users to visualize document management. Image courtesy of Varonis.

“It works the same way with commodity cloud storage,” he continues. “The next generation of storage vendors are using public cloud as the back-end for 21st century storage arrays that combine the look, feel and local speed of the ]network attached storage, or NAS] controllers that IT storage experts already know, with new capabilities now made possible by the cloud: unlimited capacity, access from anywhere, unparalleled redundancy and resiliency. By combining on-premise gear with the cloud, enterprise IT can provide the best of both the cloud and traditional enterprise storage.”

Engineering document management affects a company’s knowledge management. The way engineering documentation is stored and archived ultimately aids in that firm’s competitive advantage. By enabling a document storage system to be accessed by many, it aids innovation and also drives management decisions.

“We have worked with organizations where engineers had to wait anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to access a CAD file their colleagues overseas had been working on,” explains Rodriguez. “This kind of delay makes it difficult, if not impossible, for engineers to truly work in concert with other globally dispersed teams.”

Cloud computing is the new paradigm for data storage, and offers new innovative technology that is far removed from dusty flat-drawer file cabinets in a technical library. In addition, the emergence of cloud technologies also makes it an attractive cost alternative to physical or tape-drive storage.

“The cloud gives organizations the ability to keep all the enormous CAD files currently in use cached locally, with the deltas synced up every five minutes or so with every other team across the globe—and the ‘gold copy’ stored in the cloud,” says Rodriguez. “In addition, thanks to advancements in deduplication and compression technologies and the ever-plummeting price of cloud storage, it can be more affordable to store old files in the cloud instead of on tape. In this way, these files are readily accessible and not on a tape that’s buried in a warehouse somewhere off-site.”

An example of an Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape storage station. As opposed to disk, this tape-based data storage solution stores all documentation offline. Image courtesy of
Readily accessible data enables data reuse, and this is a key advantage that knowledge management affords. “With modern CAD environments, it is easy to create and reuse data in new projects, or quickly modify the data that currently exists,” explains Chris Grossman, senior vice president of the Enterprise Applications Division of Rand Worlwide. “The challenge users have is knowing that the data actually exists. How does a project engineer, who is working on a new program, know about components, contracts, documents and even processes that were used in other projects in which they were not involved? What if they were done in another part of the company? Or even in a different language? Data and process reuse is critical for success, and is only available with a single source of search that is intelligent enough to understand the engineering data and processes.”

Other Options

Data reuse is not only available with a traditional cloud storage model, of course. Variants of cloud storage may also be used in the architecture of such storage for document repository for data and documentation storage.

“There are a number of vendors, however, who can provide cloud gateways,” says Rodriguez. “These appliances typically have a large cache that keeps the most frequently used files stored locally while keeping the ‘gold copy’ of the full fileshare in the cloud. Alone, however, these gateways don’t fulfill the full promise of the cloud. When integrated into a larger service, enterprise IT can gain the ability to sync files across the entire enterprise, manage all of enterprise storage from a single console, or even replicate the entire fileshare to a secondary cloud completely behind the scenes for extra peace of mind.”

Not everyone believes that cloud storage is the only way, or even the most reliable way to store data. Craig Butler, senior program manager of IBM Data Protection and Retention Systems, cites a Forrester research study that states that 76% of companies have experienced a disaster or disruption in the past five years. He interprets the study as highlighting the risk of allowing all data to reside in one medium. Different types of media mitigate risk of loss from disaster. Disk and tape, specifically, is one viable storage option worth considering as a supplement to existing media and storage configurations.

In addition to tape and disk, attention should be paid to equipment associated with documentation and data. Nasuni’s Rodriguez also emphasizes that for on-premise equipment, given the immense size and value of the files with which engineering firms work, IT organizations should think about taking advantage of flash storage. Reliable equipment to accommodate such storage is also needed, to ensure that engineers can keep working even if the storage controller goes down. 

Protecting Integrity

Yet another consideration for today’s engineering enterprises to consider is the risk that document storage potentially poses to the integrity of intellectual property. Precautions are necessary to prevent hackers and other threatening agents from raiding a company’s intellectual property.

“The volume and velocity in which data is being created, copied and shared is unprecedented,” says Varonis’ Sobers. “The biggest challenges for industrial and technology companies will be in the management and protection of their intellectual property—knowing where their engineering documents exist, who can access them and who’s been accessing them.”

“The most important precaution is actually pretty simple: Encrypt everything before sending it to the cloud, and make sure that only you control the keys,” advises Rodriguez. “There are a lot of cloud storage services out there that encrypt files at rest and in transit, but because they do not have an on-premise component, they have to own the keys so they can decrypt the files when they need to work with them.”

As for JSJ Corp., which sought a better way to manage its document storage solutions, the company wound up saving about $300,000 over a five-year period through effective use of bandwidth, backup and hardware. JSJ’s story is becoming a familiar one as the market for data storage technology advances, and solutions allow such companies to perform better and compete smartly.

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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