January 10, 2011
AEC 2011 – Looking Forward
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

AEC 2011 - Looking Forward

By Susan Smith

Happy New Year!

In 2010 we saw some indicators of what to expect in 2011, what technologies might be moving forward. Some of them, like the cloud, will seem obvious to you, others have been waiting backstage for their moment, spurred forward now by computing power and supporting technologies.

Take a look at eight technologies that AECWeekly predicts will make big strides in 2011.

1. The Cloud

A lot has been said about the cloud this past year, but 2011 will probably be the year in which we will begin to see implementations.

In his keynote at Autodesk University, CTO Autodesk Jeff Kowalski said a toolset change may require a mindset change, and “infinite computing,” as Autodesk has termed cloud computing, is both a toolset change and a mindset change. It allows people to do things they may not have been able to contemplate before. Quoting Einstein, he said: “you can't solve a problem using the same mindset that created the problem.”

Infinite computing allows us to work from everywhere, said Kowalski. “We are never out of touch with our data.”

This direction actually became much clearer in a later conversation with Callan Carpenter, VP, global subscription and support, who said the biggest new feature of their subscription program is the new features to products offered by Software-as-a Service (SaaS). “We are augmenting the desktop with point functionality from the cloud,” said Carpenter.

An example of this type of product is Green Building Studio, which is only delivered as a cloud-based feature. The reason for this is that it contains terabytes of data and customers should be able to download it as they need it. AutoCAD WS is another such product. AutoCAD WS is a free* web application that uses cloud computing to enable AutoCAD software users to view, edit and share their AutoCAD designs and DWG files through web browsers and mobile devices. The updated mobile application, which will soon to be available through the App Store, helps to increase usability and functionality in AutoCAD WS by making designs accessible even when users are not connected to the Internet, and
offers support for opening email attachments directly into AutoCAD WS.

Other products that will benefit from this model are rendering and finite element analysis, as these are very complex.

For the past ten years, the only product Autodesk has delivered this way has been Buzzsaw. “Now we're offering daily access to greater functionality,” Carpenter said.

Kimon Onuma, architect, evangelist for integration of BIM and GIS and president of Onuma, Inc. has created the BIM Model Server which embodies cloud computing, BIM and GIS, facilities management and other data in real time.

Customers may be also moving towards cloud based email services such as Micrososft Exchange.

2. Virtualization

Because virtualization and cloud computing seek to solve the same sorts of problems, they are placed near one another in this lineup of technologies to look out for.

According to Ian Howell, CEO of Newforma, a company that offers project information management solutions, virtualization is a technology that lets you simulate a real piece of hardware. “IT administrators of our customers are consolidating their machines in their IT closets in their server room,” said Howell. “Rather than having a whole bunch of discreet, physical pieces of hardware, they're combining them virtually on fewer, more beefier servers. Virtualization means simulating a computer, so what a virtual computer is is a software program that simulates a real computer somewhere. For example, there is a virtual program you can run on a Mac that lets you run the
Windows OS on the Mac. As far as the Windows OS software is concerned you're running a PC -- it doesn't know you're running it on a Mac even though the Mac is there. So it's just a program that simulates a real piece of hardware.”

Many times virtualization makes it possible for customers to run as many as 10 to 20 servers on a single piece of hardware. Costs can be reduced by having fewer servers running the “virtual emulators.” If one server gets very busy, you can take one or two of the virtual server programs and move them to another server.

This solution is also valuable for disaster recovery, in that you can take a snapshot of the entire server and how it runs an application, and have a mirror application on a second server. This is much safer because customers can simply switch over to the second server if the first one goes down.

How this differs from cloud computing is that with cloud computing, the resources you are using are out on the internet, not on your local infrastructure. As a customer using cloud computing you may be leasing a virtual server or other resources from a cloud provider on an ongoing basis or for just a small period of time.

It is not certain at this time how to quantify the cost differential between virtualization and cloud computing. One choice will be made over another probably based more on customer requirements.

3. Building Information Modeling

Mentioned above, Kimon Onuma, president of Onuma, Inc. has been using BIM since 1993. His clients include the GSA, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--to name a few.

Onuma remarked at a conference last week that the economy slump is the best thing that has happened to the industry - the people who didn't have time to look at BIM now are looking at it. On the downside, BIM models have become very heavy and users cannot extract valuable information from them.

Onuma's viewpoint about technology is that it should be simple, “if we don't keep it simple, we can't solve the problem,” he said. A solution should be like an online travel website. You ask a question, it gives you an answer.

Onuma's BIM Model Server embodies cloud computing, BIM and GIS, facilities management and other data in real time. It is not built on any one vendor's software, but is able to connect files from different file formats and softwares. It is fast and simple, and allows numbers of people to access the information simultaneously.

He cited several examples of projects such as Penn State, where within 24 hours they had connected BIM to geospatial data connected in what he calls a “BIMStorm.” The intersection of GIS and BIM is where it explodes.

Onuma says it is not about tools, in fact, you can design a building automatically generated from Excel. It is all about connecting people and connecting decisions - using cloud computing.

“We have to extract the data that's valuable from BIM,” said Onuma. He said BIM is not one model, it's about making connections - just like the internet is not just one database.

Autodesk has another perspective: it is addressing this with yet another product - Project Vasari, which is a “cut-down” version of Autodesk Revit built on Revit that can be used for massing options at a strategic level. Why customers would want to buy another BIM product is a good question, yet if it is easier to use and can serve as an entry point to CAD users who are not yet ready to undertake full blown Revit models.

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