In these unusual times, millions of people in all kinds of industries are getting used to the 'new normal' of remote working.
For CAD designers this change is potentially very disruptive because most users still depend on desktop-based software to create their designs. CAD software is typically very graphic intensive and involves large, heavy files that cannot easily be accessed remotely in the same way as word processing documents, for instance.
Fortunately, there are several ways that you can support remote working for your CAD design teams. One of these is to use virtual workstations which let you load CAD software onto a virtual server that you then access via a personal laptop or desktop. One example is designairspace, a platform that provides virtual workstations to support remote working for CAD designers.
But, how would it work with CAD software like BricsCAD? Two Bricsys experts trialed the technology -- here are their findings.
About the testing
Who did the testing?
The tests were carried out by Fleur Dooms (BIM product specialist at Bricsys) and Fredrik Gundersen (Mechanical product specialist at Bricsys).
What was tested?
Over two weeks Fleur and Fredrik trialed BricsCAD BIM and BricsCAD Mechanical on designairspace's virtual workstations (other virtual workstations are available). They opened different .dwg files from Bricsys 24/7 on the virtual workstations (including one large architecture file at 130MB and a detailed mechanical model with 3,500+ parts) and explored parts and animations to test performance in comparison with a desktop machine. They performed actions like:
- Opening large files
- Modifying parts
They also assessed the user experience.
What client hardware was used?
Both Fleur and Fredrik used Dell XPS laptops -- company-supplied computers they use at home. They also had high internet speeds -- Fredrik's home internet downloads at an impressive 277 MB/second.
Findings from the testing
Over two weeks of testing the designairspace virtual workstations, the Bricsys testers got a good idea of what the software would be like to use as a general remote working designer. Their key findings are described below.
When you are working on CAD files remotely, you download files that are stored on Bricsys 24/7.
Downloading a BricsCAD .dwg file from Bricsys 24/7.
Fleur and Fredrik both noted that it was significantly quicker to download heavy files from Bricsys 24/7 to the virtual workstations than it would be to download them to a local machine. This is because virtual workstations and Bricsys 24/7 are located in cloud data centers, which are closer to the internet's 'backbone' than home connections. As a result, it's much quicker to download and open CAD files from Bricsys 24/7 on a virtual workstation.
Panning and zooming
Panning and zooming actions are very important for CAD design -- you need to be able to smoothly move around a model to get the bigger picture, while also exploring details of the greater whole.
Both Fleur and Fredrik noted that panning and zooming was generally very smooth using the virtual workstation -- it was, in most cases, identical to the experience of using a desktop machine. That said, Fredrik found that there were sometimes small delays, "as you would expect when working with a cloud service".
Pointing and control
Being able to use the 3D mouse for delicate and intricate work is important to help the designer navigate a model. Both Fleur and Fredrik reported that there were times they noticed lag between moving their physical 3D mouse and the cursor's appearance on the virtual workstation.
Exploring a BricsCAD .dwg file with a 3D mouse.
Fleur said that the 3D mouse was just "a fraction slower", yet this can sometimes be frustrating when working on intricate pieces of machinery or inside an architectural design. Fredrik added that the cursor would sometimes disappear when inactive. designairspace hopes to release an improved streaming app (end of May).
Set up and installation
If you have decided to use virtual workstations to support remote working during the pandemic, your designers will not be impressed if they have to deal with extensive and complicated set-up processes. Both Fredrik and Fleur described the installation process as "easy" and explained that they were up and running in minutes without any technical support.
Weighing up the pros and cons of virtual workstations
Virtual workstations are one potential option for designers to use Bricsys software remotely. As the assessments by Fleur and Fredrik show, designairspace was more than capable of handling heavy files, zooming and panning, and controlling models. Like any software which is accessed remotely, there are some trade-offs when using virtual workstations to run BricsCAD Mechanical and BricsCAD BIM. If you are considering using virtual workstations it is worth weighing up the following questions:
- How much will you be using CAD software?
Different designers have different needs with CAD software -- some simply need the technology for small projects and minor edits, whereas others will be creating huge files and spending hours every day in the software.
For those casual or part-time users, a virtual workstations solution seems like an obvious option -- why spend several thousand Euros on a high spec laptop when an employee will only be using the software occasionally and for small jobs? The cost-saving alone far outweighs the occasional lagging. On the other hand, intensive users working on very heavy projects may still prefer the immediacy of a local machine.
- How powerful is your physical machine?
Some designers have access to extremely powerful company supplied machines -- Fleur and Fredrik, for instance, were using powerful Dell computers. This means that the experience of using BricsCAD Mechanical and BricsCAD BIM on the local machine was very smooth. On the other hand, if you are just using a personal laptop in your home office, virtual workstations will usually provide greater power and be more comfortable rendering graphics.
- What are your security requirements?
Different companies will have different appetite for risk. In some cases, it will be perfectly fine to bring home models and files on a laptop and work on them remotely. For other companies this would be potentially very risky especially if you are working on highly sensitive projects. Laptops in particular, are vulnerable to theft, so storing files on local computers would be risky. In this case, using a virtual machine to edit models is potentially safer.
Virtual workstations are a reliable option to support remote working
Following two weeks of testing with designairspace, the testers were satisfied that Bricsys customers could use BricsCAD on virtual workstations while working remotely. Virtual workstations will not be right for every designer and every company, yet in many situations, a service like designairspace offer the power, flexibility and sophistication that Bricsys customers will need. To learn more, visit the designairspace website.