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BIM in cloud - a myth or reality?

BIM in Cloud – a myth or reality? Imran Mohammad, BIM manager, AEB clarifies a sometimes confusing topic

ANALYSIS, Business, AEB, BIM, Bimm, Building Information Modeling, Building information modeling management

BIM in Cloud – a myth or reality? Imran Mohammad, BIM manager, AEB clarifies a sometimes confusing topic.

Over the last decade the IT Cloud solution has gained considerable popularity and the term has been widely used by various categories of IT users. Though the technology itself is as old as internet, the term ‘Cloud’ found its way in the main-stream IT literature only in the last decade. Currently ‘Cloud Computing’ and ‘Cloud Storage’ are the two technologies generally known and used by IT and non-IT professionals. Both these technologies are so common that most of us use these everyday through our Personal Digital Assistant (PDAs) and on internet.

All social and professional networking websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are examples of Cloud Computing while Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud are examples of Cloud Storage.

How BIM works with Cloud Technology

When rest of the world was integrating itself with Cloud Storage and computing, the construction industry wasn’t left behind and several cloud based-solutions for BIM and document management have surfaced. For the Architectural, Engineering, Construction and Owner (AECO) industry, the highest priority is increased efficiency and collaboration, both of which are the by-products of Building Information Management and Modeling (BIMM). BIM as it has evolved through the last decade has its bigger chunk of success embedded in Information Technology and more precisely, in the network-based work-sharing environment. There are generally three types of technologies which support work-sharing, the descriptions follow.

Type 1 – LAN and WAN-based organisational network

This is the most commonly adopted setup promoted by software developers such as Autodesk and Bentley. A work-sharing environment is established over Local Area Network (LAN), where users collaborate among each other using a central server. When the business expands to other physically separated office, the two local work-sharing environments are connected using Wide Area Network (WAN). This enables simultaneous working on a same project file from two different locations. This establishes a private cloud for an organisation which increases efficiency and productivity. As every system has some benefits, they also come with limitations. In this case the limitation is distance. WAN-based setups work best within 500 kilometre radius. More than this, users will face bandwidth latency issues and jitters.

Type 2 – BIM data on the Cloud

This is a relatively new technology where geographically separated AEC offices connect with each other using cloud storage. At the centre of this system lies a high configuration console which provides large cache memory ranging from 1-1.5 TB and runs on most sophisticated servers such as Xeon and Power8.

In Type-2 environment, the LAN servers at each office location are connected with this console which in turns, provides instant data exchange with the cloud storage. Quick updates and exchange of information is at the heart of a BIM work-sharing environment. The LAN-based network provides almost instantaneous updates from one user to other, but that is limited to only locally-based offices. This is the point where Type-2 environment plays a bigger role in connecting satellite offices of an organisation which are at geographically distant locations or in different countries. Figure 1 illustrates the connection of such offices.

Type 3 – BIM Data, hardware and software all in the Cloud

Type 3 is the most advanced of all cloud computing solutions available. In this system, users access remote cloud data with cloud-based software and hardware. In an ideal environment, this system is capable of removing the complex infrastructure of hardware, software and storage management, which means a saving on IT for AEC firms.

This system is much like working on a web-based photo editor tool, where users access the editor using any web browser on any device such as iPad, laptop or PC. Picasa from Google is such an example where users upload their photos on cloud, edit and resave back on the cloud, or download on their devices.

The only difference is that the same photo can be accessed by only one user at any given time. Whereas in a work-sharing environment for BIM in Cloud, multiple users can access the same file simultaneously and contribute towards the project development.

Service providers for BIM Cloud computing provide per user-based rental or license agreement. Users access the cloud portal using their login details on a web browser. This gives access to remotely installed Revit or other BIM platforms where a project can be initiated, the central file is created and collaborators are invited. (See figure 2.)

To understand this better, imagine that a user is given the access to his personal LAN-based work sharing environment from a remote location using Teamviewer or Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection. But to work efficiently from a remote location some customisation is required to maintain consistent bandwidth and minimise internet latency.

A high bandwidth connection and maintaining the internet latency of less than 150 milliseconds is the key for the smooth functioning of the BIM in Cloud system.

Type-2 technology is gaining inroads in Qatar where a few big players have deployed the system to connect satellite offices. The Type-3 system however, is still not available in the Middle East as it requires a huge start-up investment and unique skills in IT to run this business.

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