Tuesday, May 3, 2011

BIM Breakfast Club (BBC) Meeting - April 26, 2011 - AIA-MN Office: BIM in the Cloud

Aaaaaah cute, white, poofy clouds....

Ok, I'm not talking about the white fluffy ones. We're talking about the metaphorical "data cloud" - cloud computing. So what's the big deal about "The Cloud" and what does it mean for the AEC Industry? And is it here to stay or is it just another short lived fad? Let's take a closer look....

First, let's get a quick, simple, down and dirty overview of cloud computing to date:

In a short, one sentence summary, I think "The Cloud" can be summed as "instead of bringing the data to the user, bring the user to the data." Now, it's obviously a bit more complicated, but it's much like remote desktop on steroids.
In theory, The Cloud has been around for a long time - back to the mainframe computing of '60's, 70's and 80's up until the web server of the '90's brought the demise of the main frame. And recently in the form of Remote Desktop. But today with the dropping costs of bandwidth, server class work stations becoming more affordable and remote desktop technology performance greatly improving, The Cloud is now being pushed back into the mainstream.

Instead of 'typical' network architecture, where large amounts of data being stored on data servers is being called upon and transmitted via WAN to a local work station for processing, in a cloud environment, the data processing is done in the same location as it is stored. The only information that needs to be shipped via WAN and processed by your local work station is the graphic display or images (mouse movements, etc.) from the Data Center.

Virtual Storage Servers house the data and rack-mounted High Performance Graphic Workstations act as the virtual work stations running the applications and processing the data being called upon by the user using low cost access devices. WAN connections can either be dedicated private circuits or public internet access can be used. (See image below - from Advance2000)

Is the grass greener on the other side? (Or in the the clouds...? you know what I mean...)

So what's the big hooplah? Take the following into consideration:

Network Performance
Now, depending on how your current network is setup, this can go either way.

By centralizing the data and processing in one location, the only data being transmitted over the WAN is the streaming "video" the the applications running at the Data Center.

If your network is setup with the data located on local servers, there may not be much of a benefit here. But if your network is setup with all data centrally located at a corporate server, you will see network performance benefits because all that data is now being kept within the corporate server environment and the data you're broadcasting over your WAN is streaming "video" of the user interface.

There will be a shift in hardware cost and maintenance concentration. The bulk of the IT effort will be focused on maintaining the Data Center - keeping processors, ram and graphics up to date and on the cutting edge. Because all the 'work' will be done at the Data Center, user-end hardware can be scaled back quite a bit - lower cost consumer grade machines and laptops can be used instead of expensive performance class work stations.

IT Management
Application deployments, licensing, and maintenance will be more easily handled with all entities in one location in the Data Center. Network administrators can allocate resources accordingly to users at various levels of production. More or less processing cores, more or less ram can be allocated to more efficiently utilize Data Center resources.

Mobility and Interoperability
One the coolest benefits of The Cloud is the opportunities for mobility. Imagine accessing real-time model information while on the job site, in a project meeting or while field measuring or while sitting on the beach in Cancun. With just an internet connection, the development of new mobile devices and cloud computing is making it possible to work just about anywhere.

With the data and application in one central location, firms with offices across the country (and quite possibly, or hopefully soon, the world) can access the same data and applications and work on the same projects without the worry of network slow down or hefty file transfers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cloud computing - kind of a BIM Cloud in a nut shell. I hope to expand on these sub-topics and maybe at some point explore different cloud computing options and configurations. Look for more posts on BIM in the Cloud!