One of the questions clients often fearfully ask me is, “How much memory will this project require?”

Surreal as the persistence of memory may have been to writers and artists like Salvador Dali, from the 1920s, the movement has now reemerged in the technology age of data storage. As our ability to collect hundreds of thousands of measureable points per second in standard .LAS or other proprietary formats increases, managing and serving LiDAR data is becoming a growing concern.

These large point cloud datasets often are accompanied by massive amounts of megapixel images, video and metadata, which add to the file size. To the inexperienced end user, this is enough cause for concern to avoid embracing the technology. We first saw this fear in the early days of static scanning when the data was turned over as the deliverable in its large, cumbersome raw state. The question from the client then was, “Now what?”

Although technology has seen the progression of data storage devices (external hard drives and internal data servers) from kilobytes and megabytes to gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes and exabytes in just a few short years, ease and access has increased while cost has decreased. The options now afforded us on our cell phones are perfect examples.

During the extraction and processing of point data into useable/traditional CAD drawings, advanced software now serves up the data in byte-sized portions instead of entire project overload. This allows for speed and efficiency that even a laptop or mobile device can manage. Programs such as Terrasolid and Certainty 3D’s TopoDOT are a couple of examples for the transportation market.

Project management trees and standard naming conventions are already in place within surveying and engineering firms. This makes organization of the 3D point clouds and accompanying data an extension—another branch—within the project tree.

Data capacity, too, can be handled in a multitude of ways. External hard drives, servers and offsite storage systems are offered in as many different solutions as there are people. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Offsite storage is often touted as more affordable; however, with the price of adding storage in house on a server, the costs wash out to about the same (roughly 15 cents per gigabyte). And while offsite storage is advertised as secure, it requires an open pipeline through the Internet that may make it more difficult to protect from computer viruses. (The recent Flame virus is an extreme example.) I’m not saying your data is any less or more safe in the cloud than in your office. But you have to consider how much control you want.

Truth be told, art does imitate life. There is a correlation when it comes to LiDAR data storage and the symbolism of time and space in Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (1931) and the digitizations of his companion piece, “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” (1954). Easing clients’ concerns regarding LiDAR storage and usage is not unlike Dali’s melting watches symbolic of space and time. How much space, and for what period of time?