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Structural Engineering & Design

BIM in a Cloud:

What structural engineers and architects need to know about cloud computing for business success  

By Chris France, Associate AIA  

Cloud computing was once maligned as the most overhyped tech buzzword of the year in CIO magazine (McLaughlin, 2008). Yet the technology promises to be “no less influential than e-business,” according to Gartner Inc. (2008). Defined as a computing style that provides scalable IT services using Internet technology, the trend is revolutionizing the IT industry. The reason, according to Forrester Research, is the No. 1 business benefit: Pay-as-you-go cloud computing is a cash-flow-friendly alternative to on-premise installation (Schadler, 2008).

Beyond the business benefit of significant cost savings, cloud computing has the potential to transform the way people connect and interact with employees, partners, and customers. On large-scale infrastructure projects with distributed project teams, cloud computing can provide engineers and architects with a centralized, secure computing platform for collaborative design using building information modeling (BIM). BIM in a cloud has real potential to elevate engineering and design quality and expedite workflows, while reducing engineering IT costs.

Forward-looking firms are ignoring the hype and investigating how cloud computing can contribute to their business success. This article clarifies what is meant by cloud computing in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry; introduces the enabling technologies; explores both the business and project benefits of BIM in a cloud; and explains how to get started. A short case study illustrates how one firm successfully implemented a private cloud strategy to take BIM technology to the next level.

What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing can be broadly defined as delivering hosted IT services over the Internet (, 2010). According to the U.S. Institute for Standards and Technology, “[C]loud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable resources — networks, servers, storage, applications, and services — that can be rapidly provided and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction” (Haber, 2010).

Cloud computing differs from traditional hosted services in three ways. First, it is a metered service that is sold on demand. Second, it is a scalable, elastic service that stretches or shrinks in response to demand. And third, it is managed by the provider, so the infrastructure is transparent to users. All the user needs to access a public cloud is an Internet-connected computer.

Excerpt from "BIM in a Cloud," Structural Engineering & Design Professional Development Series, Copyright 2010 Stagnito Media, Deerfield, IL



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