Is Cloud Data Storage a Gold Rush for Remote Access to BOMs in PCB Design?

Created: December 8, 2017
Updated: October 17, 2020

Three men, with dog, panning for gold in a stream in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1889

Imagine yourself as a dusty miner, fresh to the erratic outlands of the west in the 19th century. You tell yourself you’re going to make it rich, and that there’s gold in the hills, the rivers—everywhere. Now, obviously the trip has been heralding and there isn’t any particularly effective, high-speed transportation available, so you won’t be able to take whatever gold you find very easily, or very quickly to wherever you want to go. There might be a shiny, new bank down the street in your local gold-rush town: do you use it?

Whether or not to trust your hard won treasures to them is a dilemma much like deciding whether or not to use cloud storage. Are the risks of maintaining one’s own equipment and security outweighed by the promise, security, and reputation of the new business model? As cloud information becomes more established, its benefits for printed circuit board design become more evident. Still, when working on PCBs, a large amount of sensitive data needs to be carefully managed. Weigh the concerns like a miner weighing their gold: carefully, and with consideration.

Managing Security

Being able to control access to sensitive data helps keep the competition at bay and enables innovators to get the credit they deserve. Software security also keeps malicious code from corrupting data or locking it down for ransom. Nothing stops work dead in its tracks quite like ransomware. Managing this kind of security takes technical expertise, an idea of security best practices, and the practice of staying current with the latest threats.

For a small business, managing and staying on top of technological threat development on top of their own product and research interests seems like an immense amount of work and stress. Hiring an IT company to manage your data security can be a good solution when using an in-house server. While it’s always good to be aware of the risks involved with outsourcing your security, Cloud storage will typically come with security protections. It is a good idea to see what type of security is included, and to take advantage of customer encryption keys when they are offered. This can make unauthorized access nearly impossible even from inside the data storage company.

Open bank vault with golden ingots inside
Don’t just leave your vault wide open, keep your data protected.

Managing Hardware

Another aspect of data security is the integrity of the hardware upon which it is stored. Important data, which in PCB development is basically all of it, should be stored in a redundant fashion to ensure that if a problem occurs with a portion of the storage hardware the data is still recoverable in its entirety. Board layouts that have lost their associated schematic become useless pretty quickly. After all, you can’t really expect your lockbox to keep your gold safe if the lock is broken.

When a corruption issue happens in the middle of a big project a whole new level of pain is introduced. Is managing a RAID array really how you want to spend your valuable time? A local IT company can make this process much less daunting, but cloud computing can regulate the expense in terms of hardware purchases, and time as well. While it might seem unnecessary to export your computer security and data management, it can throw a large wrench in the plans of any designer if the arduous task of security is thrust into their hands.

The Balancing Act of Accessibility

Optimally, design data should be meticulously version controlled to prevent the wrong documents from being used. Few things are more frustrating than having worked hard to find a solution to a noisy power supply than to have the old insufficient filter configuration still show up in the production run. When multiple people have access to a single document, it is important that permissions be tightly controlled. Only versions that are correctly managed through secure vault software can really be trusted. Whether the information is stored on a local server or on the cloud, this issue should be addressed even if it means a little extra work.

One great attribute of using cloud storage for design data is that when authorized users need it, they can get to it. You can be relieved knowing that everyone is literally working off the same page, and can easily get any necessary information whether they are in the office, working from home, or at a trade-show. Now, obviously there are also hiccups with electricity access or internet stability, that can impede the capabilities of common cloud-storage access. This pitfall is mitigated through the capabilities of offline access and backup for cloud documents. The tradeoff of choosing to sometimes be vulnerable to internet instability seems worth it when faced with the alternative of document annihilation during hardware crashes.

A hand hovering under images of clouds
While it’s bad to keep your thoughts in the clouds for too long, data is another story.

The bill of materials is one of the most important assets of data to keep as up-to-date as possible (how else will you be getting your gold?). It can be difficult to keep track of parts-updating, designer-manufacturer communications, and new layout designs throughout the process of PCB design. That’s where cloud BOM management software comes in handy: offering automated data updating and current component pricing and availabilities. Furthermore, the best cloud BOM software can publish a BOM and send a current-version to a local machine so as to ensure that the information is available offline as well.

Through cloud-based BOM management software, version control for BOMs, component libraries and the projects themselves can be reliably managed. Find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.

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