What is “the Cloud” and what can it do for your business now and down the road?
As provided by HP
The cloud is all the buzz these days. There are web-supported calendars, cloud-based phone systems and CAD software programs hosted “in the cloud.” You even can print projects from cloud servers. But what is cloud computing and, more importantly, how can it apply to your business?
Two AEC technology experts, one on the hardware side and the other representing software, weigh in to clear up some of your confusion about the cloud. From HP, Carles Marti is Marketing Product Manager for Designjet Web Services. And from Autodesk, Rick Rundell is the Senior Director for Project, Data and Collaboration Services. Their consensus is that mobile applications and the cloud are huge – a true game-changer – and that AEC companies wanting to stay competitive should be investigating the cloud as a way to make it easy for their employees to work on the go.
“Cloud, social and mobile technologies are changing the way people live and work,” Rundell said. “Designs and information can be presented in more relevant, timely ways and worked on more fluidly. And powerful new tools can be brought to bear in the process.”
Here’s what else he and Marti had to say – and what you need to know about the ways mobile is changing today’s work environment:
How do you define “the Cloud?”
Marti: The cloud is actually more tangible than its name suggests. In the end, it’s about different online tools and resources, connected to devices down on Earth, that help professionals deliver results. Through the cloud, users can review, publish, share and print information from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection.
Cloud-based work makes information flow more quickly and efficiently, reaching more people at the same time, wherever they are. It enables people to work remotely, facilitating multi-location teams, for example, where members choose to live where they want to live because technology lets them do so. We are seeing more project management conducted away from desks on tablets at construction sites or even in a taxi. It’s all about taking away pain points for customers, saving time and shortening project iterations.
What are the primary benefits of the cloud in an AEC context?
Rundell: You can’t design, engineer and construct something in a cubicle or an office. At some point, someone needs to be on site at the project, and design information needs to be available across multiple stakeholders. AEC projects are highly collaborative team efforts, often involving multiple sites, countless companies and hundreds of very mobile professionals. Thankfully, ubiquity is the key cloud benefit: making information about projects available to team members virtually anytime, anywhere.
There was some sense of this 10 to 15 years ago with the Internet buzz and information access up on websites. But what has changed more recently has been the addition of mobile devices. Mobile is the ‘killer app’ for the cloud and the AEC industry, which has such a fragmented nature and ad hoc collection of service providers. When you step back and consider it, getting the right project information delivered to job sites on a global basis truly is revolutionary.
Marti: The cloud is about more than convenience, though. It’s about working smarter, better and faster. The cloud has brought challenges as well as advantages.
What are some of these challenges that the cloud poses?
Marti: The biggest challenge, I think, is dealing with the different systems that are available today for sharing information: the many combinations of laptops, tablet computers, mobile devices and printers. The compatibility and integration of tools and resources used, both hardware and software, is crucial in order to achieve seamless and robust workflows.
Does the cloud make AEC work more efficient?
Rundell: Beyond improved mobility and sharing, two other cloud benefits are the ability to store a lot of information in a secure and accessible way and computing ‘horse power.’ The sheer volume of data that can be stored is impressive, and it’s complete and accurate. These benefits extend beyond time efficiency to productivity. The days of having a group huddled in a construction trailer trying to figure things out are numbered since they can now come to a decision quickly and easily from their respective offices, share their plans and then move on. The cloud enables better, faster and more informed decision making.
The cloud also enables better design insight more frequently and more accessible analysis. In the past, an energy analysis might have been done once during the building design process, likely late in the design when it’s hard to change things. Now, energy and sustainability analysis is available anytime from the cloud nearly real-time. The cloud makes this cost-effective.
And do these design enhancements apply to visualization and model rendering as well?
Rundell: Yes. Because we can digitally rehearse the construction of a building today, there is far less wasted effort and rework when it comes to coordinating systems on site, like moving ductwork to allow for sprinkler piping. We used to work this out in the field because the tools to really visualize these conflicts in advance did not exist. Now they exist in the cloud and on mobile devices! Plus there are other new applications that were not previously available to the design community.Visualization is accelerated with services for photo-realistic renderings on cloud servers. So instead of the tying up their workstation for hours to create a rendering, designers can shoot the model to the cloud while continuing to work on their PCs.
It comes down to competitiveness and the delivery of better value for designers and engineers, who now can create better buildings and predict their performance and behaviors in ways that make them more predictable and cost effective to build and operate. It’s a better use of the owner’s construction dollar and ultimately delivers better quality. Better design equals more value. That’s the bottom line.
What other types of product enhancements have you brought to the market recently?
Marti: Going forward, we will soon start seeing Last May 17th we announced new apps that allow Apple iPhone and iPad users to open PDF files in mobile apps and send to print over the web, rather than having to e-mail PDFs to themselves and then send on to printers.
Also, In the future I think we’ll see even more connectivity tools, like HP ePrint & Share, that help AEC professionals stay better connected to their designs, technology and partners, whether they are in the office or on the go. We’ll also see more collaboration between manufacturers, like our partnership with Autodesk. Its AutoCAD WS application allows for sharing and editing of plans over the cloud, and even plot to PDF or DWF. One missing piece of the puzzle was the ability to print these shared or edited plans from the cloud, so we worked with Autodesk to develop the Plot to Print function from AutoCAD WS using HP ePrint & Share and HP’s web-connected printers. There will likely be more hardware-software partnerships like this in the future.
Can you tell us more about the HP-AutoCAD WS partnership?
Rundell:We have a multi-faceted, 20-year partnership with HP that spans many areas. Together, we are working on multiple levels to make the user experience the best we possibly can. This includes collaboration to ensure that the hardware and software components are optimized to work together to make 3D design, visualization and simulation faster and more efficient. Doing so gives our mutual AEC customers an edge in the three keys areas of innovation, performance and reliability. As HP is the only large-format printer manufacturer offering fully web-connected printing capabilities through HP ePrint & Share and its Designjet ePrinters, a natural extension of our partnership was the addition of remote printing in AutoCAD WS.
A bit further out, say 12 to 18 months down the road, what do you see on the cloud horizon?
Marti: There are several interesting developments in the pipeline. Of course, we can expect stronger support for the mobile space as well as further app development beyond iOS devices to Android platforms and more. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft evolves with its Windows 8 platform. At HP, we are continuing to gather feedback from our HP ePrint & Share customers to identify future developments that would make their jobs easier.
And how about two to three years from now, when you look into your “crystal ball” what do you see happening in the cloud?
Rundell: We haven’t seen the full promise of augmented reality yet, but we will. We will see the ability at construction sites, down the road, to superimpose digital information on top of what’s physically there on site. We will see wearable heads-up displays incorporated into glasses, presenting data directly in our visual field, too. This is one of those technologies migrating from the military to industry and consumers.
Marti: Technological change accelerates so fast that it is particularly hard to predict: Consider that five years ago, the iPhone was not yet on our radar. We should expect to see progress on compatibility between solutions, and also the growth of cloud-based tools and devices. Tablets will get more powerful and their adoption rate as a professional tool will increase, especially among younger professionals under 40 and as corporations and businesses make enterprise investments. New solutions such as waterproof tablets will take mobile further into harsh AEC environments as professionals become more likely to bring these devices into the field because they are less fragile.
There also is the question of how quickly technology will be deployed across world regions. For instance, the presence of higher speed connections for mobile devices, such as 4G, varies across different countries. How that plays into professional workflows and mobile adoption remains to be seen.
Future cloud technologies will continue making AEC processes easier, more efficient and, of course, more mobile. As we have seen, there are many solutions that users can adopt today, like HP ePrint & Share and AutoCAD WS, to begin enjoying those benefits now.