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BIM and the High-Performance Graphics Workstation_Part2

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Survival in today’s highly competitive building and construction industry, particularly for small and medium businesses, requires some creative thinking and a bold, comprehensive long-term strategy. …

Survival in today’s highly competitive building and construction industry, particularly for small and medium businesses, requires some creative thinking and a bold, comprehensive long-term strategy. Beyond streamlined business and operational systems, firms must find a way compete in a market with fewer project opportunities, lower profit margins and smaller staff. They must also make the shift to more collaborative and integrated project delivery methods, tools and techniques that likely include building information modeling (BIM) and virtual construction processes.

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  • 1. BIM and the High-Performance Workstation, Part 2Build back end performance to drive integrated project delivery workflow tools that address both CAD and BIM workflows, the Building Design Suite provides the flexibility to respond to changing project requirements. Brian Haines, industry marketing manager for Structural Engineering Solutions for Autodesk, says, “The new suite has been created to specifically address CAD and BIM workflows across the building design and construction lifecycle. Building professionals can design, visualize, analyze, document and build. The Suite products reduce training time and minimize support headaches for tools and methodologies, simplify software purchasing and licensing management challenges, allow IT managers to support extended project team members who deal with a proliferation of software packages and diverse file formats.” Specifically, the Autodesk Building Design Suite Premium edition is designed for architects and engineers who can benefit from an optimized set of tools including the Autodesk ® Revit ® line of products (Architecture, Structure and MEP),Survival in today’s highly competitive building and the AutoCAD line of products (AutoCAD, Architecture, MEP,construction industry, particularly for small and medium Structural Detailing), Autodesk ® SketchBook ® Designer andbusinesses, requires some creative thinking and a bold, Autodesk ® 3ds Max ® Design software and Autodesk Showcase.comprehensive long-term strategy. The Ultimate edition includes the products above as well asBeyond streamlined business and operational systems, firms Autodesk® Navisworks® Manage, Autodesk® Quantity Takeoff,must find a way compete in a market with fewer project Autodesk® Inventor® and Autodesk® Building Design Suite Premium.opportunities, lower profit margins and smaller staff. Theymust also make the shift to more collaborative and integratedproject delivery methods, tools and techniques that likelyinclude building information modeling (BIM) and virtual “The biggest factor in hardware selection is likely the size ofconstruction processes. the models a firm expects to develop. Megabytes of BIM files directly impact RAM requirements.”Enabling a comprehensive BIM and integrated project deliveryworkflow demands a comparable hardware implementation — Mano Gialusis,strategy that streamlines virtual connections, delivers mobile senior product marketing manager for Dellflexibility, facilitates cloud computing and offers the scalability togrow efficiently and affordably as business opportunities emerge.A successful BIM hardware execution plan that includes Autodesk system recommendations for the Premium integratedthe power, flexibility and scalability of desktop and mobile suite of products includes: Windows 7 on a 64-bit Quad Coreworkstations likely begins with the way an AEC firm approaches CPU (such as a 3.0 GHz or Higher Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMDthe virtual environment, specifically software selection. Athlon Dual Core with SSE2 technology), 8GB of RAM, a display adapter capable of 24-bit color and 256 MB DirectX® 10 capableSuite Success graphics card with Shader Model 3. The system should alsoToday’s BIM solutions require significant processing power, have 22 GB of free space.memory and storage with multi-processors, as well asa professional graphics card and network connections. Mano Gialusis, senior product marketing manager with Dell,Developers like Autodesk are moving to more manageable, says, “Remember, these recommendations are just to runIT-friendly suite solutions to facilitate complex workflows the applications at optimal performance. The biggest factorsuch as managing a building’s lifecycle from design through in hardware selection is likely the size of the models a firmconstruction and continuing into operations. expects to develop. Megabytes of BIM file size directly impact RAM requirements.”As an example, Autodesk recently introduced its AutodeskBuilding Design Suite, which combines design, engineering and DesignGroup, a leading provider of BIM-driven designvisualization tools for building for a single price and available processes in the upper Midwest, learned this lesson early in itson a thumb drive. Built to provide building project teams with BIM adoption on one of its first projects.
  • 2. Mobile BoostWhile working on the 233,000-sq-ft Butler Health Systems NewPatient Tower project, the design team relied on Revit Architectureto consolidate the architectural, structural and MEP design models.The project team relied on Autodesk® Navisworks® products for clashdetection of design models and subcontractor models, to coordinatethe project throughout construction.Brian Skripac, director of BIM for the DesignGroup says, “We knewimmediately that we needed greater power and more flexible systemto continue forward. Managing multiple large file sizes for day-to-day modeling and design tasks became taxing, even generatingrenderings were difficult with our existing workstations which wererunning on a 32-bit platform.”For added mobility, the firm invested in Dell Precision™ M4500 mobileworkstations which included a 15.6-in. screen, the Intel® Core™ i7processor, Windows® 7 Professional, and NVIDIA® Quadro®FX 800M Dell M6600 mobile workstation Image courtesy of Dellgraphics and a 128GB high-speed, highly reliable solid-state drive(SSD), 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM—all at about 6.0 lbs. The firm also usesdocking stations with external 22-in. Dell UltraSharp widescreen flat Dell’s M4600 and M6600 mobile workstations for instancepanel displays to give staff a full desktop replacement experience offer creative power with optional Intel® Core i7-2920XM Quadwhen in the office. Core Extreme Edition processor and Genuine Windows® 7 Professional 64-bit. The completely revamped Dell PrecisionFor those who need fixed solutions, the Dell™ Precision™ workstations M4600 offers four DIMM slots, which enables memory scalabilityare designed for compute-intensive environments like 3D modeling, up to 32 GB with 1333MHz or up to 16 GB with 1600MHz doublesimulation and visualization. Designed for performance, reliability, data rate 3 (DDR3) memory for handling large data sets and aand scalability in environments where space is at a premium, the storage capacity up to almost 1 terabyte—all for about 6 lbs.Dell Precision T5500 fixed workstation incorporates a 64-bit multi- The system can be configured in RAID0 or RAID1 mode tocore Intel® Xeon® processors, impressive graphics, and exceptional operate with high performance or redundancy. The M6600 withmemory capacity that work together in a compact chassis. For 17-in. screen has similar capabilities with a larger screen and ainstance, the 32nm 6-core Intel Xeon Processor X5600 Series with storage capacity closer to 2 terabytes. Both systems incorporateIntel Quick Path Interconnect Technology provides high-speed graphics cards such as Nvidia Quadro & ATI® FirePro®—andinterconnect between independent processing cores and increased multiple hard drives.performance with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology.Mobile MadnessIn general, more AEC firms are choosing mobile HPGWs to improve “The solid-state drive [on new mobile workstations] isaccess to BIM models from the jobsite, remote work locations, and ideal for storing operating system and BIM applicationssatellite offices. An increasingly mobile workforce depends on the while the ejectable drive stores customer-specificpower, flexibility and scalability of these workstations to maximize models, documents and related materials.”BIM. Mobile workstations are uniquely well-suited to collaborativeworkflows facilitated by BIM solutions such as Autodesk’s Building — Mano Gialusis,Design Suite 2012. Gialusis says, “Designed for people who work in senior product marketing manager for Dellthe BIM environment and similar computation intensive professions,mobile workstations have the same capabilities as some desktopworkstations and far outpace standard desktops. Project teamsincluding architects, engineers and contractors will have noproblem pulling up large, complex models with speed and ease.” “Both mobile workstations have a 128 GB solid-state mini card and easily ejectable full size 750 GB hard drive bay,” says Gialusis. “The solid-state drive is ideal for storing operating system and BIM applications while the ejectable drive stores customer- specific models, documents and related materials.” The Precision M4600 and M6600 mobile workstation incorporate Intel® Turbo Boost Technology. So what about the cloud? Will the shift to web-enabled computing reshape the need for high-end graphic workstations? Clearing Up the Clouds Operating in the cloud refers to the use of remote servers to host applications and store data, leaving desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smart phones and other devices free to operate with greater speed and freedom. The servers can be owned by public cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services or Google, or by individual businesses.Dell M4600 mobile workstation As these cloud environments begin to emerge, they will alsoImage courtesy of Dell increase mobility for professionals. For instance, AutoCAD WS is
  • 3. a web and mobile application for Autodesk’s AutoCAD products In another case, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting,that allows architects to view, edit and share DWG files located in Charlotte, NC, built a private cloud using its high-anywhere, with anyone. With functionality focused on sharing performance graphics workstations. As an architecturaland collaboration, using this app on an Apple iPad, iPhone or and engineering firm, Little Diversified has heavy desktopiPod Touch gives users the ability to upload DWG files directly computing needs that are similar to the gaming industry.from AutoCAD software (via plug-in), review drawings in a web Switching to a workstation cloud strategy allowed the firm tobrowser, invite other project team members to “co-edit,” and take advantage of today’s advanced workstation capabilitiesrecord a summary of the meeting with the chat feature. while reducing hardware investment. As tablet and mobile devices become more powerful, industry professionals canLynn Allen, an Autodesk Technical Evangelist, says, “AutoCAD expect to see cloud and mobile-based versions of BIM software,WS is not a replacement for a workstation but rather another adding a new dimension of efficiency and interoperability tostep in the design collaboration process. It’s another means of the BIM workflow.collaborating. It extends AutoCAD beyond the desktop and letsfolks view, edit and share DWG files while onsite.”Breaking Down the Basics Hard Drive Considered secondary to CPU performance and available RAM, the speed of a workstation’s hard drive is a factor in hardwareof BIM Hardware Selection selection. Faster drive speeds can enhance such functions as loading and saving models, and so some users have employed SCSI or SATA drives for use with BIM platforms. SAS areMemory and CPU Speed recommended where available and affordable. More important,BIM platforms are demanding in terms of computation say users, is maintaining the right settings and periodicallyperformance. Pentium® 4 3.4 GHz processors or faster have been defragmenting drives. For example, the operating system driveconsidered a minimum spec over the last two years. Firms have should be set to minimize Windows [Swap File Space]; a secondsuccessfully used a higher clock rate (more clock cycles per drive can be dedicated solely to Windows Swap File.second) than specified by the CPU manufacturer. Overclocking canbe applied to processors, video cards, motherboard chipsets and Video Cards and Graphics Cardsrandom-access memory (RAM), by changing settings for the front While the video card is an important consideration for basemodelside bus (FSB) and the CPU multiplier. hardware selection, many experienced companies report that it’s not a factor in BIM or system performance. In general, however,Dual-Core Processing specified video cards should (a) be designed for CAD or BIMThe use of multiple-core processors is recommended by applications; (b) use on-card memory rather than machine RAMexperienced BIM users. BIM rendering engines are optimized for (as in integrated video support); (c) be of sufficient quality foruse with two to four CPUs, although only minor gains have been high-end graphics rendering; (d) provide for a good level of videoreported for using more than four processors. Benefits of multiple- RAM, such as 128 MB of video memory for Revit platforms.processor systems include a performance boost up to 20% ormore, in part due to reduced cycle use by other applications Operating Systemrunning concurrently. Many BIM users dedicate their computers to Many companies experienced in using BIM contend that 64-bitthe BIM work only, with a second, lower-grade laptop or desktop operating systems are critical for effective BIM workflow support.used for email, Word, Excel and all other applications. Increasingly, A 64-bit operating system can handle large amounts of memoryBIM software supports the multithreading of computing functions, more efficiently than a 32-bit operating system. The existingwhere the threads are handled by a single core. For dual-core limit on 32-bit Windows O/S is 2GB of memory. Windows XP withand multiple-core systems, multithreading can improve the SP2, for example, allows only 2GB of available system memory,utilization of a single core in the system. Recent releases of Revit, although the memory can be extended to 3GB by adjusting thefor example, provide for multithreading of wall join cleanup, system settings in the boot.ini file. Similarly, Windows Vista is alsohidden line removal, and print functions. For most dual-core limited to 2GB, but has a switch that allows the system to use 3systems, however, processors can actually lose performance due GB, an approach used by many engineering, architecture andto multithreading. Also recommended in hardware choice are construction users. Typically, operating systems reserve aboutprocessors (or motherboards) with a Level 2 or L2 cache, part of 1GB for running the operating system and associated hardware.a multilevel storage strategy that boosts computer performance. The benefit of 64-bit operating systems is that they allow moreUp to three levels of cache (L1, L2 and L3) may be employed to memory than any typical BIM model or workflow requires.improve interaction between the very fast CPU and the muchslower RAM. Seasoned building teams note high-performance BIM platform makers recommend 8GB of memory for the 64-bitimprovements using CPUs with L2 caches of 2MB or more. Windows O/S environments. If using a 32-bit BIM platform with a 64-bit operating system (allowing at least 5GB of total memory),RAM the BIM application will use up to 4GB of RAM. In some cases,Memory use increases in direct proportion with building project users have reported better model stability and performance withcomplexity. Teams developing large structures and facilities 32-bit BIM platforms.simply need more memory available for BIM computing, basedon file/project size. One rule of thumb is to have at least 1GB of Storing and Maintaining FilesRAM for workstations using BIM, though most seasoned BIM While file storage and maintenance may be considered anmanagers recommend 4GB or more. A growing number of users ancillary issue, it is important for success in a BIM environment.put the minimum for modeling-and-rendering workstations at For example, the use of Storage Area Networks (SANs) and8GB, while recommending 12GB. Rendering engines in some Network Attached Storage (NAS)—two networked storageBIM environments, for example, operate separately from the solutions that are increasingly prevalent—is encouraged withBIM application, so additional memory can speed the rendering auto-migration features, which may reduce BIM platformprocess. In all situations, select workstations that allow room performance. The use of distributed caching, where clusters orfor adding more memory. To boost performance, BIM users caches are hosted at multiple locations, may be beneficial to BIMrecommend dedicating workstations to BIM alone—and closing platform efficiency. Whatever the solution, it must be consideredinactive applications. for its ability to protect the integrity of BIM files. Document
  • 4. management and data management products used with BIM optimization is a key issue. This consideration has grown asautomatically protect data creation, simulation, and documentation more AEC project teams employ mobile workstations for use atprocesses. Examples include Newforma, ProjectWise, and Vault. jobsites as well as the home office or touchdown space.A variety of static and dynamic archiving procedures can be usedwith BIM. Data servers for the central files of BIM applications should WAN optimization for BIM is provided by a long list of reputablehave hard drive speeds that are “as fast as is economically practical,” vendors, including Riverbed Steelhead, Cisco WAAS, Juniperwith multiple processors. Networks and GlobalScape. These vendors can help with a variety of issues (such as traffic optimization and acceleration)Network Connections and implementation questions, but in all cases, bandwidthIn addition, the specs for the network should be considered. A is the key currency. A second issue is network latency orgigabit-speed LAN—with a gigabit available consistently throughout response time—the time it takes for a packet of data to run athe network—is considered a minimum requirement. That means round trip from the sender to receiver and back is called thethe network should have minimum category 5e or category 6 latency of the network.cabling, gigabit switches and routers, as well as matching Ethernetcards at the SAN or other storage device and at every desktop. Others are using BIM clouds to see if there are improvements to performance. So many design/construction teams are mobileWide-Area Network today that the idea of “bringing the model to the worksite” isFor work within mobile communities and for interoperable common and a realistic expectation.collaboration with outside AEC and owner groups, WAN