Reality Check: BIM vs. VDC
As we implement BIM, let's clear up some misconceptions about BIM and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) terminology. As discussed in an earlier blogpost, "The new Face of BIM", BIM isn't merely 3D design with Revit. It's really about assembling data and objects in a collaborative manner over a construction project's life cycle.
The business case for BIM is becoming stronger every day. We now estimate, for example, that the cost of errors/failures in construction projects ranges from 5 to 15% of a project’s total cost. This huge waste of resources can be avoided through the use of BIM technology.
Detecting a potential clash or error during a BIM project's design phase costs up to 13 times less than in its construction phase. BIM technology can also reduce CAD drawing rework from 48% down to 2%. Integrated collaboration on complex BIM Models, however, will require the implementation of new technologies.
According to Mortensen construction, VDC can be defined as "a visual management methodology that uses BIM as part of proven construction analysis and work processes". Design teams can apply VDC to all their day-to-day work processes, from engineering analysis for constructability to estimation and scheduling.
Owners / clients are now an integral part of construction teams. They can provide their input by using 3D models as live decision-making tools during the construction process -- as long as we can, of course, view and edit the models that multi-disciplinary teams are working on anywhere, and preferably on any device.
Cloud and mobile technologies are also driving innovations that will take the construction industry to its next level of performance. Computing power, in particular, remains critical, as 3D models gradually replace paper drawings and documents, and engineers require more mobility.
Emerging BIM/cloud technology, such as Autodesk 360, reduces the potential drawbacks of standalone BIM by providing project teams with real-time collaboration platforms that lead to higher levels of productivity.
Early cloud technology merely stored data in the cloud. Vendors, such as Autodesk, provided solutions, such as Buzzsaw, to let engineers store and share files in a central location.
Advanced collaboration platforms with their multiple options, such as Autodesk A360, are quickly growing in popularity. In addition to delivering centralized data storage, they support complex computations, including photorealistic rendering and computer-aided engineering for applications, such as bridge stability modelling.
These cloud collaboration applications, however, do not always simplify local IT and network infrastructure. Project participants must continue to transfer BIM models to the cloud server and other servers, which can cause potential data loss and some inefficiencies.
This means that existing cloud technology needs to address solutions where data confidentiality can be critical, as well as complex computations and 3D graphics models that could hinder performance. As data volumes and 3D model complexity increase, cloud-based collaboration platforms will require more powerful Web-based operating systems and file-sharing and hardware infrastructure to support data consolidation, archiving, and access to project data or even ‘big data’.
Big Data in Cloud-Based BIM Environments
Another source of concern for AEC companies using the cloud has to do with security, model ownership and contractual relationships. Current risks associated with cloud-based BIM technology include poor data partitioning and protection. As long as multiple project participants continue to download BIM models or their components to local devices, organisations will struggle with this issue.
Enterprise IT has lately virtualised physical infrastructures in order to create dedicated resources, such as servers, workstations, and storage devices that are independent of the physical hardware layer. A hypervisor dissociates end-user devices from the enterprise's systems and policies.
These virtualisation technologies, such as Citrix and VMware, remain complex and costly to configure and manage, however, and their use is limited to larger companies. Still, virtualization is the core technology that made cloud computing possible along with the advent of high bandwidth internet lines.
New developments in the cloud landscape, however, are now laying a new foundation for flexibility and performance.
New "Cloud Computing"
BIM and VDC technologies are increasingly starting to blend. Emerging and integrated cloud computing solutions can now simplify virtualization and deliver total cloud offerings. Computers and resources can be "rented", or streamed via the internet according to the pay-as-you-go business model.
For example, you can easily create and deploy workstations, servers and even Revit apps from an internet portal. Companies can rapidly set up collaborations and work transparently, as local IT issues are passed on to their service provider.
As workstations run entirely in the cloud, project data and models are never stored locally, and can be managed and secured centrally. Multi-disciplinary teams can collaborate in real time on detailed BIM models by using any device, wherever they are. Client owners and team members can also review and modify these 3D BIM models in real time.
Cloud Computing at Work: Revit Server and Workstation Deployments
“Deploying infrastructure and managing systems performance can be tricky and time-consuming”, says Kristof Vandenbogaerde, BIM Manager at BIMplan. As a Belgian company that works as a mediator on large BIM coordination projects, BIMplan often faces IT-related issues in the early stages of joint ventures.
Speed is always a factor, and all project phases require proper planning. This process, however, doesn’t always take into account the time that's needed for effective IT deployment. IT managers are quickly brought together to provide project engineers with the necessary BIM tools and workstations.
Revit Server collaboration issues can also arise. As project participants use their respective servers, who will host the central model and take responsibility for the database? Discussions can happen among partners about who will pay what and to whom. What's more, system performance during the design phase may suffer due to poor 3D model synchronization across servers and workstations – particularly in geographically dispersed sites - wasting time and money.
Fortunately, cloud technology can now provide easy access to Revit workspaces or virtualized workstations that engineers can access on any device – including laptops, tablets, and thin clients – over an internet connection.
Virtual CAD workstations, running in the cloud, on any device
This new technology is called GDaaS – where “G” stands for GPU/Graphical and “DaaS” for Desktop-as-a-Service. Virtual workstations’ CPU, graphics cards, Windows OS and apps all run virtually on the same cloud. Only the screens (pixels) are transferred to the end-user. This IT infrastructure – including virtual workstations – can be deployed in minutes instead of weeks. Collaborating teams no longer waste time synchronising data and waiting for IT support, resulting in shorter lead times for overall building projects.
BTW; You can try this new technology for free by requesting a trial here.
The Case for Data security
BIM technology, cloud computing and real-time collaboration go hand in hand. Some people may have security concerns, however, and argue that they can't really share their confidential data in the cloud.
Just think what is more secure: a CAD laptop that could be stolen at the airport or from a construction site, or a virtual desktop that stays safely in the cloud? An in-house server that is prone to crashes, or an evergreen data center with automatic fire extinguishing, water detection and steel doors? A computer with a single but easy-to-guess password that you can enter on a construction site, or a cloud desktop with 2-factor authentication that can be locked from a distance?
Dematerialise Your IT infrastructure
20 years later and all those things fit in your pocket
There is no question that cloud computing today participates in the pay-per-use economy. Just consider how many objects, such as the Walkman, phone, and alarms the iPhone has been replacing. You can be sure that this "dematerialization" will also apply to your IT infrastructure in the future... all the way to your workstations.
When your IT infrastructure -- including its processing power -- migrates to the cloud, everything will be "dematerialized" from the construction site, providing much greater flexibility in the future.