To what extent are firms currently using BIM in the cloud and what does it mean for the AEC industry? AEC magazine asks two industry consultants.
Most cloud solutions address one issue, usually fairly well, but the true benefits will be realised when ‘the cloud’ becomes ‘cloud cover’.
Think English skies rather than desert island. BIM cloud utilisation is ultimately focused on BIM Level 3.
For now the reality is less idealistic. Nearly 100% of Evolve’s clients are using some form of cloud service (Dropbox, 4P, Info Exchange, SELECTserver hosted license management, etc) providing a BIM Level 1 or 2 ‘structured’ approach that allows sharing, collaboration and management of project data from different locations.
This is where a differentiation needs to be made: cloud storage is significantly different to cloud processing. Storage is commonplace; processing less so.
Like it or not, the Microsoft Office365 model is one to aspire to, addressing storage, communication and collaboration in the Cloud holistically. Lync allows us to talk to remote teams and integrate with calendars, see the model and edit it through application sharing; SharePoint for data storage, tracking and even multiple person concurrent editing and review.
What is missing is BIM processing and live cross-discipline data manipulation functions. Others, such Aconex, Newforma and Iomart, offer cloud solutions for AEC, bridging the gaps to Level 2 ‘federated’ data environments with scalable storage and archive, BIM collaboration optimisation across offices and customised solutions for communication and data distribution to name a few.
These are all valid investments for competing at the BIM frontline. But is it BIM in the cloud? Or is it offsite storage with optimised data sharing? Virtual workstations, such as Citrix-based solutions, address these issues. VDI is an area that is developing fast and is being seriously investigated and deployed by a significant percentage of our clients.
A smaller number are actively reviewing implementation of proprietary services including Autodesk 360 and Bentley’s ProjectWise PointCloud Services, solutions that deliver integral additions to software already being utilised.
It is these specific resource-intensive processing tasks that provide the first real application for the end user: rendering, point cloud streaming structural or energy analysis.
But cloud computing simply isn’t the top priority. Level 2 BIM compliance remains the more pressing issue for our clients at this time. Cloud adoption is occurring when usage becomes a matter of course, driven from the software without the end user necessarily considering the technicalities of how the service operates.
Clients are not buying cloud solutions, they are buying solutions which incidentally incorporate cloud services; Cloud technology will serve, not drive, the BIM evolution.
Nigel Davies, Evolve
With 20 years’ experience in AEC, Davies has first-hand understanding of cutting-edge design and construction data production and exchange.
CASE has a three word manifesto: buildings equal data.
We are on a mission to help our clients create, manage, and understand the data associated with the built environment. Much of this data is inaccessible.
It either sits siloed on personal computers or it gets thrown out due to a lack of storage space. The cloud helps solve both of these problems with its ability to collate and store data, in perpetuity, for almost no cost.
The cloud is a somewhat nebulous notion. Marketing departments at software firms have commandeered the term and morphed it into a vague catchall for the future of computing.
To us, the cloud is simply a server. There is nothing particularly new about this technology. Architecture firms in the 1970s were using servers for the same reason we use the cloud today: servers can store and process orders of magnitude more data than can be done on a local machine.
Rather than throwing data away, we can keep it in the cloud. We can create massive databases of every model a firm has produced. Not just the final model, we can save every version of the model’s development.
We can save analysis data, issue tracking reports, and emails. We can scan existing buildings and begin to store real-time occupancy data.
This sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the data being saved and analysed by firms like Google and Facebook. Google tracks over a trillion web pages, Facebook saves over 500 terabytes of new data a day. The AECO industry isn’t even close to producing this amount of data.
Once this data is in the cloud, we can begin to uncover trends hidden inside the data. CASE has worked with clients like SOM to analyse not just an individual model, but an entire collection of models. We can look at how models develop over time and set up alert systems for when a model drifts outside normal parameters.
There is also the potential to link this data back with facility management data, closing the loop between anticipated performance and actual performance.
These are only a few of the initial possibilities afforded by storing data in the cloud. As it stands, the cloud is currently underutilised by most firms in the AECO industry. But as data comes to define the construction industry, the cloud will be a key enabling technology that will give firms the competitive advantage in managing and learning from data.
David Fano, CASE
Founding partner Fano leads technology implementation, knowledge capture and sharing, social media initiatives and business development.
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