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How AEC businesses can begin migrating to the cloud

Whether AEC businesses want to begin thinking about moving servers and software to the cloud or not, it’s a direction that has a weight of inevitability about it. So when should you begin to think about moving to the cloud, what are the options and how does a company go about getting there?

“Has the server gone down? Gah! (Insert appropriate expletive here.)”

You know the feeling: you’re working on something, deeply immersed, you go to hit save and everything freezes. You can’t save work to the server, you can’t open new files, the network turns to mud. 

If you don’t have in-house IT support it means a call to your IT contractors who, if they can’t solve the problems remotely, have to come in, on the clock, and pick the server back up… all going well.

This is the long-suffered problem of companies with on-premise servers (the only viable option until recent years). We’ve all been there, and will no doubt go there again.

‘Cloud’ seems to be a subject that’s hard to avoid at the moment and it’s offering solace to many small businesses striving to get away from the frustrations of servers, hardware and ongoing IT costs.

AEC cloud solutions

Deciding to move even a small enterprise to the cloud can take anything from 12 to 24 months from concept to completion.

Microsoft Windows Azure datacentreIn the case of architecture, engineering and construction design businesses using Synergy, there are fairly typical IT infrastructure needs. Most of our clients have a file server for the Synergy installation, their general file storage and emails with a number of employees working from this central location.

On premise servers, of course, need to be backed up. Most practices will claim data is religiously backed up on a fileserver, using tape drives, CD/DVD’s or an external drive sitting next to the server. This is certainly better than nothing but such measures face the risk of many a pitfall — theft, natural disaster, random mishap…

Offsite back-up facilities allow data stored on central fileservers to be backed up incrementally throughout the day to a storage location offsite over the internet. There are now many cloud storage providers offering this and the costs are low.

Changing a whole enterprise’s file and data storage infrastructure can be a big operation, though, easily taking many months. If it’s a strategic priority for the ‘near future’, planning should have already begun.

Options for cloud storage and back-up include hosted servers with virtual PC access, complete virtual environments including virtual operating systems, or simple enterprise file storage with companies such as Dropbox, Box or Microsoft’s Skydrive and Sharepoint.

In addition to cloud storage, many AEC businesses are taking advantage of cloud software including accounting offerings like Xero and BIM cloud services. Popular ‘add-on’ partnerships, such as Synergy Connect for Xero mean business management tools can be connected, keeping everything synchronised and up-to-date.

Cloud is mobile for AEC professionals

The nature of architecture, engineering and design businesses is that project staff are often out on-site or away from the office. Being mobile, connected and having easy access to simple things like timesheets, contacts and project information is often broadly appealing and one of the many pluses in looking at cloud software and storage.

Cloud-based software empowers architecture, engineering and design professionals to work from anywhere with the right device and an internet connection. Hardware such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, new operating systems such as Windows 8, apps such as Lync and Skype and tools such smartphone cameras enable AEC professionals to communicate, collaborate, record, report and respond whether on-site, on the road, at home or in the office.

Moving file and data storage to the cloud only adds to this valuable efficiency and increases the flexibility and capability of an AEC business. Maintaining a lean, efficient and flexible organisation can provide simple competitive advantages and a lower overall IT cost in the short and long term.

Many questions, but there are answers

There are many questions to ask and answer before taking the first steps to the cloud with an organisation – security concerns, sovereignty of data, location of data centres and more. We’ll cover these questions and more with future articles in our cloud series, so please keep an eye on our blog and LinkedIn page to stay up-to-date.