Travelling frequently for work is always fun. Getting to see new places, eating in new restaurants and meeting lots of interesting folks is always a pleasure. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of gazing out an airplane window. The perks associated with business travel, like gathering all those airmiles and hotel points also makes me look like a Captain of Industry to our kids when we bring them along on trips. We could be going to Bora-Bora for a diving experience (we haven’t) or heading to Bermuda to see the Americas Cup Yacht Racing (we didn’t) but if we don’t start our trip in the Delta SkyClub at Atlanta Airport, Master Techachu and Miss Tenacious feel they’ve missed out on something. Oh the delight of free cookies – Woo-hoo!
There is a down-side though. In my role in Technical Sales, I have to carry lots of equipment. A typical trip will feature a large laptop bag, my carry-on case for clothes and of course the mandatory golf clubs in summer. I’ll never complain about the weight of the golf bag, ever. Actually it’s really funny seeing me wheeling all that shizz through the airport. I need a ‘Long Vehicle’ or ‘Wide Turns’ sticker for the foot of my golf club flight case.
I always complain about the weight of my laptop bag specifically though. Its stacked full of necessary tech and also some back-up tech, just in case. I simply can’t turn up at a customer site with something that doesn’t work or with a technical issue. Clients need me to solve problems, not to create new ones. So for that reason I have to carry many things.
- My Laptop, which is huge because it has to be powerful enough to demonstrate products normally run on a desktop.
- A Projector, because I can never guarantee that the client has a conference room with a large screen TV. Thankfully, projectors have now been miniaturized to a practical size. My current one is bigger than my laptop. And the TSA hates it.
- An iPad, to show clients how our software is driven in a mobile environment. Plus I use it for my entertainment on the plane. FIFA is my drug of choice.
- Chargers, Connectors, Headsets, Mice and Mats, Access badges, Lanyards, Corporate Chotchkies, a Neck Pillow and Eye Mask for Red-eyes and my one quart toilet bag ‘with no liquids, gels or aerosols….’
All of this stuff adds up in weight and I reckon my laptop bag tips the scales over 50lbs. Not exactly the mobile computing future I was sold on back in 1995.
A regular trip will include lifting and lowering all this from the car to the security line, from the security line to the overhead bin, from the overhead bin to the trunk of a cab and finally from the trunk of a cab to the hotel room desk. I must lift and lay that black vinyl hippo around 100 times per trip.
If I skip leg-day at the gym, I’ll end up looking all disproportionate, muscle bound upstairs with fragile support below the belt, just like Popeyes’ nemesis, Bluto. Like a couple of chopsticks supporting a melon. My obliques are already looking steroid enhanced!
Imagine my delight when our IT team started offering us access to a CloudPC. Most folks know this already, but a CloudPC is basically another computer somewhere that you tap into over the internet. Some people might call it a Virtual Machine or a Remote Desktop. VMware and Citrix have been leading the charge on it but there are plenty of other solutions around. You can even setup your own if you have a couple of free machines and an account from TeamViewer – This is ideal if you just need temporary access to another PC.
The benefits of a CloudPC are many-fold. You can use it as a backup for your files at the simplest level. You can use it as a test machine before installing that suspicious looking download from ZDNet to check it for Adware or Spyware. Then if your suspicions are confirmed, just wipe the test PC, reinstall and move along. In my professional capacity I use it to test beta versions of our software so I don’t mess up the super-organized, freakishly-tidy, OCD-exemplifying, demo laptop I use day-to-day. Some of my colleagues use theirs for infinite computing power. Rendering a Virtual Reality scene in Shotgun took days on a desktop PC before. Now a Cloud PC can do the same thing in less than hours due to an abundance of processing power and memory.
However, where I’m most excited about CloudPC is how I can use it to save my aching bones from lugging my bag around. The minute I heard that we could actually start running a virtual machine, all I could hear in my head were the words iPad and Thin Client. Since then I’ve been working with the stellar group of genii on our IT team to discover and resolve enough issues to build a reliable and usable platform, not only to view BIM models but to actually author that data; to create complex models in a mobile environment.
The 6 minute video below gives an overview of the technology.
From an AEC industry perspective this could be huge. No more juggling around in the site cabin looking for a cable to hook up to the conference screen. Imagine going to a site meeting and actually figuring out a design solution there and then, then creating the drawing and sending it to the fabrication shop that day. No more “I’ll-do-it as-soon-as-I-get-back-to-the-office-and-I’ve-cleared-the-stack-of-emails-piling-up-because-I’m-here-at-a-site-meeting” woes. This is truly mobile BIM my friends.
You will need:
- A Citrix CloudPC and account. This article is specific to Citrix but I’m willing to bet VMWare and others have something similar.
- An iPad complete with a keyboard. This can be a standard bluetooth one paired as normal to the iPad.
- The Citrix Receiver App from the Apple App Store. Well, d’uh!
- A mouse. In particular a Citrix X1 Mouse. Buy it here. This is the difficult part. BIM modeling by finger-touch is like playing the guitar with gloves on. The Apple Pencil will help but you still don’t get the rotate and panning functions you need as easily as mouse control. Apple hates mice. iPads were never designed to be mouse controlled. Hey Apple – Get over yourselves! This article discusses the same issue from a VMware perspective.
- A mouse mat. Because its an optical mouse and won’t work on your shiny glass art-deco desk.
- Decent internet. I live in the ‘burbs of the ATL so I have 1Gbps fiber, hard-wired. Lucky me! It will work on a hotspot or tethered phone on LTE though. Just be a bit more patient.
- A projector if you want to share your screen. This one from Optima is the dogs you-know-whats.
- Keyboard lag. With Citrix, your CloudPC needs a registry hack or your keyboard is beyond frustrating to use.
- Start Menu: Type ‘Regedit’
- Find: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Citrix\Graphics\
- Change the setting for TextOptimization to “1”
- Reboot the Virtual Machine
- Connecting the mouse: Don’t do it via your iPad settings. The Citrix Receiver app has a special pairing function that you must use instead. If like me, you didn’t read the instructions – Christopher Columbus didn’t need directions so neither do I. Actually scratch that. He didn’t find what he was actually looking for either. – If, like me you didn’t read the instructions just go back to iPad settings and remove the Citrix X1 device. Then re-add it through Citrix Receiver.
- Screen Resolution: I haven’t solved this one yet. The new iPad Retina Display should be way more capable than 1280×1024 but that’s all I can muster to date. It means dialog boxes fill the screen and ribbons get condensed. The upside is you can actually see them on the small screen. You might need a loupe to select small icons if you max out the resolution. If I find a solution I’ll add it in the comments so be sure to follow this blog for updates!
And that’s it – you are now a mobile Jedi of BIM. The only thing to do now, you must, is comment on your experiences of VMware or other remote solutions you’ve found and you’re using. I challenge every Cloud PC Padawan reading this to find a simpler or most cost effective solution.
Thanks to Andy Tran and Shelley Nicholson at Autodesk EIS. – You guys were the genii I was referring to earlier.
Thanks to Master Techachu for your cameraman skills. In your future, more technology, I see.