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Why civil engineering designers need to switch to the cloud

Cloud computing offers civil engineers virtual unlimited on-demand computing power for design simulations, but the majority have yet to take the plunge. Wim Slagter at Ansys says those who don’t convert to the cloud, risk being left behind.
 

Cloud computing offers a safe, secure and cost-effective solution for unlimited infrastructure design simulations
Cloud computing offers a safe, secure and cost-effective solution for unlimited infrastructure design simulations

Companies large and small have started to turn to cloud computing to solve today’s complex business issues, the cloud is quickly becoming a business imperative. In the civil engineering sector, where infrastructure designs go through a huge range of iterations under a vast number of conditions, the potential for cloud solutions is equally strong.

Research by my firm Ansys into the attitudes of 600 engineering professionals and senior-level executives to engineering simulation in the cloud, revealed a number of priorities. These included increasing speed of development, improving productivity and accelerating innovation. However, only 17% of the engineering companies we surveyed are so far actually using simulation in the cloud, reflecting both a lack of awareness of the possible benefits and concerns about making the switch.

Improving productivity

Our research established that many civil engineers are already battling with the limits of their computers. More than one-third of engineers are reaching peak capacity multiple times each month, with obvious negative effects on productivity. In the cloud, this challenge is eliminated due to virtually unlimited on-demand computing power.

Moving simulation computing to the cloud will enable civil engineering design teams to access designs and view progress of simulations from anywhere in the world and at any time, on a pay-per-use basis. This provides obvious advantages in terms of flexibility and efficiency for each member of the team, but it also improves collaboration on projects. With shared access to a centralised platform, all contributors can easily access the same designs and make changes in real-time, significantly shortening development time.

When creating building and infrastructure designs, simulation in the cloud enables users to test their designs in an almost endless number of scenarios to understand how it will operate in real-world conditions. This is key to understanding how, for example, the smallest change in design or design assumptions may affect or impact the performance of the final product, allowing engineers to ensure infrastructure operates to the highest safety standards.

Also, simulation has recently gone from being used mainly for verification purposes to now being used in conceptual design, enabling rapid evaluation of numerous design ideas. Simulation is also being used to analyse real-time operational data from smart infrastructure as part of the industrial ‘internet of things’.

Security concerns

While working in the cloud enables the design and testing processes to become digitalised and streamlined, data security is a major concern for some. Interestingly, according to predictions by Gartner, by 2022 at least 95% of cloud security failures will be the fault of the user, not the cloud provider.

Either way it is essential for companies offering construction, design and management services to align with cloud technology that has top-grade security. For example, in Ansys,cloud files are automatically encrypted when sent to the azure cloud to avoid human error resulting in a breach.

Picking a pilot project

As in most technology rollouts, attempting to cover every base and tick every box out of the gate typically results in failure. It is therefore recommended that civil engineers considering cloud computing look for a small simulation project that internal computing resources are struggling to support, and then use it as a pilot project to show the value of cloud computing in the organisation’s simulation efforts.

Our research also revealed that 20% of surveyed businesses are planning to start using the cloud over the next 12 months. Those yet to plan for cloud computing should consider doing so now – or they may risk being left behind.

This article is based on the authors’ briefing article in the latest issue (173 CE2) of the ICE Civil Engineering journal.

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