With internet services like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, you would think that sharing information would be very easy these days. But when it comes to sharing large amounts of geospatial data, sharing can still be a challenge. In this blog post, I will look at two concepts for sharing: local-first and cloud-based. Both concepts have been around since the start of the computer era, and the pendulum swings back and forth as to which is in favour at any given time.
The pendulum is currently in the cloud camp. Most people turn to cloud-based applications to share data with stakeholders, such as team members and clients. One such application is our SOLV3D encompass™ (Encompass), which I will use to illustrate this type of sharing.
The application runs on a central server or in a cloud service such as AWS (Amazon Web Services). Users can log-in from remote locations anywhere in the world. They can store data in the same location as the application or store it on another server or cloud service.
A typical workflow for such an application is:
- The company using the application makes one user the administrator (admin) to organize and manage the application for all users.
- The admin first creates a “project” that defines the scope of the data they will share with stakeholders. Projects can be defined several ways, for example, their project could be a small construction project with different time periods (epochs); it could be a large construction project with many times and locations; or it could be the inside of a building covering several floors and times.
- The admin uploads data to a cloud location. If that location is not the same as the sharing application itself, then they can link the data location to the application.
- The admin then invites other users to access the application and project. The admin may grant different access levels to each user. For example, they may grant a user full access to the data (e.g., the ability to export sections of the data) or they may grant more limited access (e.g., only the ability to view data).
- When the admin has loaded the data into the application, the application automatically gives all invited users secure access to it.
The pros and cons of cloud-based sharing are:
- The data synchronization is real-time – all users see the same dataset as soon as the admin has loaded it into the project. The exception is restricted access users; the admin needs to let them know of data updates by email.
- Users can access project data from anywhere with an internet connection, and using almost any platform: mobile, tablet, laptop, or desktop.
- Secure access stakeholders can use the application to jointly work on a project, such as leaving notes, comments, or tags for other stakeholders. Unsecure access stakeholders cannot.
- Data sharing is usually more secure, as the admin can assign different levels of access to users.
- The admin (or another user) can embed a project into a webpage, such as their company website, like in this example.
- Cloud-based sharing applications can be inexpensive if you need them only for a couple of months, as most providers offer them in a software-as-as-service (SaaS) format.
- Cloud-based applications efficiently store large amounts of data, as there is only one, central copy, typically known as the “one source of truth”.
- Cloud-based sharing applications tend to be more expensive over the long term (e.g., two years or more) if the provider only offers them in a SaaS format. An exception is our Encompass application, which we offer both as short-term SaaS and as a perpetual licence.
- Data security could be an issue, as you may not have control over where the data or the application reside. Encompass is again an exception, as you control the location of both the data and the application.
- Users need an internet connection to access the data. This can be a huge problem if users are working at remote sites.
- You need to make one person the administrator of the system, which reduces flexibility of your team, as only one person can upload data for the team to use.
A local-first application runs on your laptop or desktop. One such application is our SOLV3D engine™ (Engine) program, which I will use to illustrate this type of sharing. To share, you export a “share package”, which you send to your stakeholders by e-mail.
The workflow is quite simple:
- The user who wants to share geospatial information loads the data into a project and then exports a share package using Engine. There is no admin in this case, all users who have Engine can do their own work without needing a central person to configure and run a system.
- The user then sends an e-mail to other stakeholders (they do not have to be Engine users) with the file attached or as a link to a share drive. Many e-mail programs, like Gmail, will automatically upload large files to share drives and put the required link into the email like the example below:
- The stakeholder receives the e-mail and downloads the share file and can now see the shared data using the included viewer (they do not need Engine or any other program).
The pros and cons of a local-first sharing are:
- The cost can be lower, as you can start with one program for one user. Also, there are no centralized services to manage or pay for.
- All stakeholders do not have to be a user on the system to receive a shared project.
- Stakeholders can access project data from anywhere without an internet connection. Once they have the data on their computer, they can access it any time.
- The user sharing the project controls where the data and the application reside.
- The sharing user can encrypt the share file if they need to.
- You do not need to make one person an administrator over the system, as there is no system to administer.
- The share package can have a dataset that stakeholders can use in other applications, such as publishing to a company website, like in this example.
- Managing restrictions is much simpler – the user either sends the share package to a stakeholder or they do not!
- Local-first applications usually have other useful features, such as data processing and analysis functions.
- Once the sharing user sends the data out to a stakeholder, they have no control over who the stakeholder might send the data on to.
- The data synchronization is static – if there is new data or changes to the data, the sharing user needs to send new share packages to all stakeholders and request them to download before viewing.
- Local first applications are less efficient at storing large volumes of data, as users store their own copies of the data.
Both cloud-based and local-first sharing are practical ways to share large amounts of your geospatial data. The main deciding factors are cost and timeliness of data. Cloud based sharing is faster and handles large amounts of data better, but local-first is simpler and less expensive.
If you have a need to share your geospatial data with others, be sure to check out our upcoming webinar on sharing where we show how both Encompass and Engine share data, and we will provide you with 4 weeks access to both applications for you to decide which best suits your needs. Sign-up using the following link.