Autodesk announced last week the release of the Autodesk Cloud, the first steps in our exploration of future platforms for computing. I'll leave it to my marketing and sales colleagues to provide the particulars, but thought it might be useful to consider the implications of the emerging cloud for the building industry.
While architects, engineers and builders have always been engaged and enthusiastic about digital technology, low margins, lack of capital and a general aversion to risk have prevented most AEC players from broad, enterprise-wide investment in technological innovation. The appearance of the personal computer in the mid-eighties was an important tipping point in that commoditized technology was finally available to the myriad small businesses that are the backbone of our industry and moved us, albeit late, to the computer age. The internet connected those computers for us, and the combination of the two converted the theoretical possibilities of BIM into practice. Cloud computing is likely the next accelerator, and in my view, a huge game changer for the building industry.
Let's stipulate that building projects of all kinds are huge CPU and storage hogs, and that today's increasingly large personal computers have helped but certainly not kept up with those demands. Seems to me that our customers are constantly pressing these boundaries, ahead of hardware and software capabilities, the more they embrace model-based approaches. Supporting your BIM process with thousands of CPUs in concert with what is essentially infinite storage certainly won't hurt. And having that stored data more universally accessible is an added bonus.
But as we move from the desktop to the cloud (not just in AEC, but everywhere: see Amazon, Apple, and your local bank) I think the much-touted possibilities of BIM's transformational implications for building will come into much sharper focus. A parametric 3D building model, as a more accurate approximation of the final product, is advantageous in and of itself. But the ability to extrapolate the possibilities of that model, unconstrained by computational boundaries, is pretty titillating: generating and evaluating alternatives with both scripts and sorting algorithms that will "bound" the exploration space of options; running persistent analysis programs that report "real time" results of design decisions as the designer makes them; even keeping a continuous set of high resolution rendering cameras "viewing" the design as it unfolds, will give designers and builders completely new insights into how projects are unfolding. Even more importantly, it will simultaneously increase insight and free us to explore and solve, using our synthetic and creative abilities and leave the mundane "in the cloud." I'm betting that, once we get over some initial giddiness and sloppy form, we'll build better as a result.