Introducing the 3D (4D, 5D…) Cloud

Image Attribution: flickr

What’s your understanding of 3D? Real life, perhaps, where height, width and depth are the spatially-oriented way we mostly think about things. It’s a perception that software vendors attempt to emulate in certain graphics or design applications. You get to see ‘3D-like’ images on a flat screen (so 2D), with the third dimension being mimicked either in the way the image is presented, say with light and shadows, or by being able to ‘rotate’ it for a continuous transition from front view to back view. Such images contain more data and require more storage space. They can also take a considerable amount of computing power to manipulate. That’s when the ‘cloud’ sign lights up as a way to get both resources (storage and compute power) without too great a cost or investment.
All This and Collaboration Too
Some CAD (computer-aided design) software companies are already offering possibilities to use their software in the cloud to help people find sufficient system resources easily and to also help people work together. Cloud resources are flexible and scalable. Compute-intensive tasks can be done rapidly (think hours or even minutes, instead of days). CAD files can be stored safely, cost-efficiently and with immediate availability for being extended or reworked with a cloud-based CAD application. Collaboration is a natural add-on. With a suitable user authentication system in place, small or large teams can work together in the cloud on one or multiple graphics projects.
Boosting the Added Value of Cloud Storage Vendors
While CAD vendors have been cozying up to cloud resources, at least one cloud storage vendor has reversed into the same space by acquiring 3D modeling capability. Storage provider Box recently bought 3D design software company Verold. The added value that Box is eager to promote is for customers ranging from retail to manufacturing, engineering and construction. Users of a Box-Verold solution can collaborate on design files in the field (syncing and sharing, as required) using a standard web browser interface and leaving the cloud systems to do the heavy lifting.
Moving Up to the Fourth Dimension
Like… “The Twilight Zone”? Well, no, or not yet anyway. However, some applications use not only the three dimensions of the real world, but also a fourth dimension, say, of time. Building information modeling (BIM) applications allow architects, engineers, constructors and investors to see how buildings evolve over time. Smart buildings now being constructed contain sensors that periodically feed information back to servers about energy performance, stress and other criteria. A BIM application uses this data in models of how buildings have changed up till now and possibly how they will change in the future. It’s no surprise that for the same reasons as above (like pay as you go data storage and compute power services), BIM is finding a natural home in the cloud too.
Free Your Mind
Things don’t stop at four dimensions either. BIM applications can extend to a fifth dimension such as cost, which can either be computed as a result of changes in the first four dimensions, or used to drive decisions about them. The more dimensions you add, the bigger the data files become, the more processing power is required, and the more the cloud proves its value in keeping things affordable. A ‘dimension’ doesn’t have to be a spatial dimension either (for example, cost is not spatial). The cloud opens up access for many more users to sophisticated modeling applications working on company strategies or economic outlooks, instead of physical objects. Such applications can use as many as 100 dimensions or variables. The only real limits at the moment are not the cloud resources, but the applications themselves and the imagination of the people who use them. The cloud can handle it all.