The cloud. A nice way of referring to other people’s computers, or more exactly, some data centre in, say, Palo Alto, CA. And of course, owned by some big corporation or other, with a dubious sense of morality and shifting attitude towards privacy and intellectual property.
In BIM, the ability to effectively and dynamically share information across multiple geographical locations is crucial, and the benefits of storing this data in “the cloud” is undoubtedly desirable, as it facilitates collaboration. But putting your information out there also signifies the risk of losing control over it. And it’s because of this that many big names in the AEC industry are reluctant to trust storing their intellectual property anywhere beyond their own servers, even if it’s a right pain at times, and rightly so, if all the news of hacking and penetration of the world’s most secure networks is anything to go by.
One of the cornerstones for collaboration in BIM projects is the Common Data Environment (CDE), where information from all stakeholders makes its way through the project stages, in an ever increasing curve of added data being constantly modified, revised and validated.
But in order to have this “single source of truth” (SSOT-yes, it’s also been turned into an acronym…) available to all involved, potentially everywhere and at all times, presents us with some logistic problems and technical challenges. There is a number of widely accepted and used solutions, non of them perfect, but we have to make do with what is available and just get on with the job.
Now, most people have heard about Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency. The technology behind Bitcoin and what makes it so potentially disruptive at so many levels is called blockchain, or also a distributed ledger. Essentially, a distributed database.
So what has all this geekiness and nerdiness got to do with BIM, you ask?
Well, quite possibly (and sooner than you might think), a whole lot. Read an interesting (and short) blog post by James Salmon about it here. You can also visit this website (Work in Progress) by Malachy Mathews, about potential uses of blockchain applied to BIM.
My take on this subject (BIM and blockchain) is related to solving the problem of a secure and trustworthy CDE. How? By decentralising the information being shared and distributing it in small, encrypted chunks across a massive and global network of nodes. For lack of a better name, I came up with a new acronym (yayyy!): a DCDE, or Decentralised Cloud Data Environment.
Needless to say, after some research (my glorified way of calling “googling stuff”) I quickly came across some folks who are already working hard at developing similar solutions (although with different purposes in mind). Two brilliant examples are storj.io and sia.tech:
Not convinced? Don’t blame you, but sir, you may want to reconsider. Many scoffed at the BIM mandate announcement by the UK Government back in 2011, and it is pretty real and unstoppable now, yes? Well, guess who has recently been investing in researching distributed ledger technology? Right. The gov.uk itself. See this report.
And it’s not just the UK, Estonia has been pioneering the use of blockchain and integrating it into the core of its public services for years now. Just do some “research” yourself. It might give you a glimpse of what’s to come.