BIM and the Cloud

In this article, Chris France, CIO of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, a 225 person firm located in Charlotte NC, describes how they built a private cloud that included their high performance graphics workstations. A private cloud differs from the public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services or Google by the fact that the cloud computing infrastructure and resources are controlled by the individual business that deploys it. Little’s cloud is the first AEC workstation cloud in production and is on track to reduce the firm’s workstation and laptop hardware expense by 67% ($2M) over the next 10 years. The article also describes many of the additional business benefits the firm has achieved through its workstation cloud approach and shares some of its implementation details.


19 thoughts on “BIM and the Cloud

  1. This is a great article…very interesting to finally hear a success story for shared desktops in an AEC environment. The only question I would have relates to the “secret sauce” section. There is a reference to a “utility software for multi-user access” but the name of that software is not provided. What is this utility software that is part of the secret sauce?

  2. Exactly as Bret said: This is a great article… Could you please provide us with the name of the software for multi-user access?
    Thanx a lot from Switzerland

  3. I have spent an hour looking for the same software mentioned. please share!!! thank you for the great article!!!

  4. My goal in writing the article was to let readers know WHAT is possible with the current technologies and applying them to the AEC industry. If you want to know the details of HOW this is done, then we’ll need to enter into a consulting engagement. You can connect with me through LinkedIn and we can go from there. Thank you for reading my feature article on AECbytes. Several readers have already contacted me and we are beginning an engagement.

    – Chris France

  5. How is this legal? In order to allow for concurrent RDP sessions you would have to replace termserv.dll with a modified version not available through Microsoft?

  6. Thank you to Chris and Lachmi for bringing us this excellent article. I am involved with some small firms who would like to be able to make long distance live Revit connections work. I look forward to future developments.

  7. I see two options if Windows 7 is being used as the “host” on the rack-mount server w/ 32 GB of RAM:
    1) Hyper-V server with a number of virtualized Windows 7 computers specific to each user.
    2) Modified/Hacked Windows 7 Remote Desktop to allow multiple concurrent users (I’m with Mark — I believe this is a violation of the licensing agreement w/ Windows 7… if you want to do this, the official way, see option 3)
    3) High-powered server with Windows Server 2008 R2 x64, with proper terminal service licensing for the number of users connected (your default server install doesn’t give you licenses to run it as a terminal server)

    More reading:
    RDS/TS Licensing
    I won’t leave a link to help people use multiple concurrent users with Windows 7 because I believe this would be a license violation of windows 7, and any firm that did this would really risk some nasty licensing repercussions.

  8. I am getting asked questions about legalities of this method and no EULA’s have been violated (Microsoft or Autodesk) as I looked at that real hard. I fully answer this question on this linkedin group:

    This is straight from Microsoft Windows 7 EULA section as it relates to Remote Access Technologies:

    Remote Access Technologies. You may access and use the software installed on the licensed computer remotely from another device using remote access technologies as follows.

    – Remote Desktop. The single primary user of the licensed computer may access a session from any other device using Remote Desktop or similar technologies. A “session” means the experience of interacting with the software, directly or indirectly, through any combination of input, output and display peripherals. Other users may access a session from any device using these technologies, if the remote device is separately licensed to run the software.

    – Other Access Technologies. You may use Remote Assistance or similar technologies to share an active session.

  9. Hi Chris, could you post the name of the Linkedin group so I can join. All I get is “Sorry you are not a member of the group you are trying to access” when I follow the link above.


  10. Thanks for putting this great article together Chris. Congratulations on pioneering the task of desktop Virtualization in AEC industry. On our end at BCJ, I have been working with our IT team on similar lines.
    When came the time to collaborate on BIM models across two offices, we tried everything in the book and outside of the box in the following sequence.

    Initially we looked at breaking the model up so the teams could work independently and sync via FTP overnight. This was time consuming and cumbersome. We then looked at using WAN optimization to speed up the ‘save to central’ and working over the VPN, but didn’t get good feedback from others already using the solutions.

    We then looked at RDP and other remote access solutions seriously, so that the model remains within the LAN and on the same server. HP-RGS looked promising, but then we settled with RDP, since it was free and worked on multiple OS hosts.

    In terms of virtualization, we initially focused on a standard desktop configuration that was portable and easily replaceable if damaged. We were early adopters for running virtual machines on the Intel Mac Pro desktops and laptops, and continue to use them in production. We have achieved similar results under test condition with our Mac Pro desktops with what you have done with HPGW. The network/business licensing model is essential for implementing the virtual desktop solution.

    Your article encourages me to pursue the ‘private cloud computing’ track. I’m very hopeful that soon most vendors will acknowledge the demand and let their products run on a virtual infrastructure.

  11. Folks. I just got off the phone with Autodesk and they stated that our BIM Cloud has NO ISSUES with their EULA providing the following conditions are met.

    1. You have a valid license for each concurrent user that opens up a Revit session in the Cloud. (we do)
    2. You don’t violate your regional usage licensing. What this means is that your US people can’t use the BIM Cloud licenses during the day, then go home, then your China operations starts using the same licenses on the BIM cloud. You can’t share across regions. Little is not since we are all US.

    In fact, they want to ENCOURAGE this type of computing and I am working with them to fully embrace cloud computing, remote desktop, and virtualized PC’s.

  12. Thanks for the thought provoking article! The pendulum once again swings away from the fat client, back to the thin…

    I’ve been pondering the Windows licensing issue since this was published. Of course Autodesk is ok with what you’ve done, since each instance of Revit still acquires a valid network license. It’s no different than if the client computers had started the Revit sessions themselves instead of having another computer do it for them.

    Windows, though, is another matter, and I agree with John Tocci’s post about the possible ways to do this. It appears that here, the Windows 7 rdp dll has been replaced to allow multiple concurrent sessions. I’m having a hard time believing Microsoft thinks that that is ok.

    The beginning of the Windows 7 EULA states: “Number of Users. Unless otherwise provided in these license terms, only one user may use the software at a time on the licensed computer.”

    Note that the Remote Access portion you’ve quoted states, “Other users may access a session from any device using these technologies, if the remote device is separately licensed to run the software.” That is, the other user (ie not the primary user), requires a separate license. As in, Microsoft wants to sell you Remote Desktop Services running on Windows Server 2008. Further, the license later states, “you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. You may not * work around any technical limitations in the software…”.

    With that said, I think it’s a great idea. It just has to be done legally, which changes the costs some. I will be doing some testing!

  13. Chris, Thanks for the article here and your contribution to “Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture 2011” by Krygiel, Read, and Vandezande. We are small 14-person architecture firm in Columbia, MO, with 2 of those employees being in a remote city. We are currently looking into converting some recently purchased individual workstations into “High Performance Graphic Workstations” to accomodate new staff with lower overhead. My long term goal is slowly virtualize all of our workstations for the reasons your article mentioned and as a way to keep good staff by allowing them flexibility and the possibility for them to continue working for us in a remote city (aka our 2 remote employees above). We are looking to potentially create this private cloud in our IT consultant’s data center since we are so small and I’m the only (unofficial) IT staff (I’m really an architect).

    In response to others comments, Chris could be using software similar to Thinstuff’s XP/VS Server ( to achieve the concurrent RDP sessions rather than the hacked termserv.dll method. The article did mention the special software was also doing load balancing, which I believe the Thinstuff software does.

    Chris, have you experimented at all with the beta MS RemoteFX technology for GPU virtualization? It is currently available as the beta SP1 downloads for Widows Server 2008 and Windows 7. I believe the final SP1 is to be released in Q1 2011. As far as I understand it, to take advantage of the RemoteFX features, the host machine would need to be running Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 SP1 with a guest OS (or multiple guest OSs) of Windows 7 SP1. I am toying with trying this setup out on one of our existing individual workstations with hopes that we could have both a user at the workstation using a Windows 7 guest OS, and remote users concurrently using another guest Windows 7 OS hosted on the same workstation. I am not sure if my desired setup is possible and would interested in learning of your experiences or research so far.

    I look forward to hearing more from you on this subject.

  14. Nick, thanks for your reply. You have rightly picked up on the fact that the “BIM Cloud” strategy is more important than the actual technologies as those are rapidly changing. This industry is quickly adopting the concept of centralized cloud computing for even architectural/engineering desktops. Our solution has been in place for over a year now and the products that you listed in your post did not exist at the time. There are some better technologies that virtualize the GPU and give you a HW-like acceleration (e.g. PCoIP) but those solutions are generally one-one user to workstation mappings. Doesn’t do me much good when I want to share an expensive workstation. Ultimately, I think everyone will be running truly virtualized desktops (high performance workstations) and the performance will not be an issue, but right now you get the best performance in a shared workstation rather than a virtualized workstation. This may even change by the time I post this! I have not run the products you list in production, but we are starting to play with the Microsoft solution. Nothing to write about yet! But hopefully soon.

  15. Chris,

    Great article – I’m a little late to the party on reading this. We’ve been doing some of our own research into this and have successfully duplicated your model and am testing it now. I, with others, am weary of the Microsoft licensing, but with everything, it can be negotiated with vendors typically.

    Autodesk is clearly on board with this type of technology. Adobe, on the other hand and their Creative Suite is not. A white paper I located that discusses the topic (specific to App Streaming, however) demands that “you must have a valid license to the desktop version to respective [Adobe Creative Suite] software (“Soft-ware”) for all users who have access to the Software on a [Shared Station] — not for the number concurrent users.” What are your thoughts on how to mitigate this archaic limitation?


    Greg Moore
    IT Director
    SRG Partnership, Inc.

  16. Greg, Thanks for the feedback. Yes this is the “new norm” for AEC computing. Adobe is very restrictive in their licensing and do not support cloud computing or remote desktops. Technically you can run Adobe in a cloud, but legally you cannot. I know many people are trying to get them to back off, but no success yet. I tell people even if you can only get 95% of your apps running in a cloud, that’s better than 0%.

  17. Yes, very informative article!

    However, it should be clearly stated that the BIM Web sharing solutions desribed are software specific – Revit, in this case. Most of the problems that the author is facing are not present if ArchiCAD and its included BIM Server solution are deployed.

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