Building Design

IMAGINiT Clarity for Autodesk Revit Server

28 Nov, 2012 By: Patrick Davis

First Look Review: Manage your Revit Server, projects, and team members; automate tasks; and collaborate with users in multiple locations — for a price.


In May 2012, IMAGINiT Technologies introduced IMAGINiT Clarity and IMAGINiT Clarity LT for the Autodesk Revit Server platform. The product is designed to improve collaboration on Revit projects and provide management tools for your Revit Server farm, as well as automate cyclical tasks such as backing up files, creating PDFs, exporting DWGs, and the like, and make Revit data available to non-Revit users.

Out of the box, Revit provides tools so multiple users in a single location — connected by you — can create a central file in which multiple users can develop a model over a local area network (LAN), and can work on a single, centralized model. When project team members are in multiple locations, connecting to a central file over a wide-area network (WAN), an organization can add Autodesk Revit Server to help with worksharing across a WAN.

IMAGINiT Clarity for Autodesk Revit Server 2013Both versions sit on top of Revit Server, adding another layer of functionality, security, and ease of administration. Clarity provides tools for managing and monitoring the central project file host(s) and the local Accelerators that aggregate and cache data that's transferred between the users and the host. Security tools control access to the project files — so users see only the projects they are permitted to see — and allow for multifirm collaboration, so that external partners can securely access the files that they have been assigned on your project. Task-automation tools allow you to schedule repetitive tasks, such as creating DWG and PDF files or file backups, to run automatically. System-monitoring tools help you keep an eye on the performance of the Clarity network and underlying Revit Server network infrastructure.

For the purpose of this review, my company installed IMAGINiT Clarity for Autodesk Revit Server 2013 (v2013.1). We ran Clarity for 60 days on top of our Revit Server.

Getting Started

You can install IMAGINiT Clarity on an existing Revit Server network or on hardware configured for Revit Server. Prior to testing, my firm set up a new Revit Server farm with a host and two Accelerators, all installed on virtual machines (VM), which IMAGINiT reports to be the case for most installations.

IMAGINiT performed our installation of Clarity for Revit Server via web conference. The process began with an evaluation of our current Revit Server farm to validate that it was configured properly. Then the IMAGINiT Clarity host and Accelerator were installed. Total installation time was approximately 30 minutes. Our installation included support for external partner sites and Active Directory account synchronization for project-level permission (to be discussed later in this article).

Setup then turned to the individual user workstations. IMAGINiT provides a Revit add-on so users can connect and log on to the IMAGINiT Clarity server network — adding to the security features of Clarity.

Added Security

With Autodesk Revit Server, if you have a dozen projects on the server, then all those projects are visible to everyone who has access to your Autodesk Revit Server area. With Clarity for Revit, you can establish project-level security access, assigning project-level access and role-based security to each user account, as well as perform Active Directory authentication. This added security is transparent to the Revit user.

Adding outside partners or firms to a project is not easy using Autodesk Revit Server; Clarity, in contrast, provides built-in multifirm support via a virtual private network (VPN) that provides access to the Clarity for Revit Central Host server(s). In less than 10 minutes, you can provide safe and secure access to outside partners. The VPN can come from IMAGINiT or you can use your internal VPN application. Post-installation security management is easy. Administrators can add new users or change project assignments and roles in a matter of minutes. Users' impressions of these new security features are a mixed bag, however. Users in my company who have worked on projects within the Bentley Systems ProjectWise environment have had no complaints. Those who aren't used to being "locked out" of a project are a little frustrated that they can't see everything and open every file.

Easy Project Access

Clarity replaces the Autodesk Revit Server Administrator web portal with a new web-based dashboard for project management, quality control, and project data access. Clarity's dashboard is written in HTML 5, which allows desktop and mobile devices to access the tools and data collected in the dashboard. This is incredibly powerful for users of mobile devices such as iPads, who now can handle administration issues anytime and from virtually anywhere. A BIM manager who gets that late-night call asking for help can quickly log in, add new users, set up new folders, and address Revit Server problems. BIM managers and project managers also can review and monitor activity on the project without accessing the models directly. Dashboard access is available to all users on the project team, not just the IT administrator or BIM manager. Information displayed on the dashboard depends on the role assigned in the project security settings. Our users found it easy to move from Autodesk Revit's dashboard to Clarity — they just needed a quick tutorial about generating reports, scheduling new tasks, etc.

The portal includes five tabs: All Projects, Users, Companies, Tasks, and Server. The All Projects tab is visible to all users; the remaining four areas are accessible only to administrators.

All Projects. This tab lists all the projects that a user has permission to access. Click on one to access the Project Home screen, which provides basic information such as associated models and available reports (figure 1).

 

Figure 1. The Clarity dashboard provides access to essential project information.
Figure 1. The Clarity dashboard provides access to essential project information.

 

Users. This section allows administrators and coordinators to create and maintain user accounts.

Companies. Administrators can add external companies and assign permissions and access here.

Tasks. Under this tab, administrators can create automated tasks, including on-demand and automatically generated reports; file exports (PDF, DWF, DWG, FBX, GBxml, IFC,and RVT, as well as image formats), database reports, project file backups, and more. A new feature of the task automation reporting system is the Performance Advisor Report (PAR). The PAR conducts 17 Revit model performance checks that Autodesk recommends and creates a graphical report of any issues. Tasks can be scheduled whenever the Revit file is updated and saved to the server, at a scheduled time, or on demand. This task automation runs on the IMAGINiT Clarity Task Automation Server, not on users' workstations.

Server. This area provides details about the status of the Clarity and Revit Server farm. Clarity provides a Model Locks feature to clear those issues — the bane of Revit Server administrators — quickly and easily.

For all users, the dashboard shows an image of the project file that is live, updating as the model changes. The project thumbnail images can be 3D DWFs, 3D PDFs, or raster images of the model — which is good for non-Revit users. The dashboard also includes version information about the models that are part of the project, including Revit Versions, the last time the file was updated, and by whom, and it creates reports and data sheets that can be run automatically or on demand.

Powerful Benefits

Clarity brings with it a variety of features that will make life easier for BIM managers and users alike.

Easy on users. From the Revit user's perspective, Clarity for Revit is identical to Autodesk Revit Server, with one exception: The user must log into Clarity for authentication. That means there's virtually no learning curve for users.

Time-saving task automation. The task-automation tools are great for routine tasks such as generating a PDF set or uploading Revit models to a consultant. The system pushes the task to one of the task servers, freeing up the designer's machine and time.

Powerful reporting. Clarity provides a way for non-Revit users to access the data within Revit models without having to open Revit. A number of report types are available, such as sheet schedules, rooms, finishes, doors, and multimodel schedules. Clarity will also create room data sheets (figure 2), which are specialized, customizable reports that can include everything related to the room, such as doors, equipment, finishes, key plans, floor plans, and images of the room. Creating room data sheets with Clarity is more complicated than creating a room schedule in Revit, but if you are producing these types of project documents manually, Clarity will definitely save time.

 

Figure 2. Clarity lets users create customized room data sheets that pull data directly from the model and can be accessed by non-Revit users.
Figure 2. Clarity lets users create customized room data sheets that pull data directly from the model and can be accessed by non-Revit users.

 

Easier, better security. IMAGINiT Clarity security features are easy to set up and maintain. I like the ability to allow external partners access to the project on our Revit Server farm. This fosters collaboration because everyone works with live models, rather than exchanging files on a weekly or some other prescribed basis.

Remote Revit Server management. Although it would be nice if we all worked from nine to five, this just isn't the case. The remote access to the IMAGINiT Clarity dashboard lets you quickly review and diagnose problems, even on an iPhone.

Helpful training and support. Following installation, IMAGINiT provided a thorough training session on how to use and manage Clarity for Revit. This included project setup; adding users and companies, tasks, reports; and dealing with difficult model lock issues. My experience with IMAGINiT Clarity for Revit tech support was outstanding.

Pick a Version

As of September, IMAGINiT Clarity is available in three versions: Clarity, Clarity LT, and Clarity Workshare. Clarity and Clarity LT are similar, except Clarity LT has a limit of one Central Host, 25 users, and two projects, whereas Clarity includes three Automated Task Servers and allows for an unlimited number of Central Hosts, users, and projects. Clarity Workshare is for organizations that use file-based worksharing rather than Revit Server. It offers task-automation tools, a project dashboard, reports, and room datasheets; there is no limit to the number of projects or users.

Price: Deal Breaker for Some?

Pricing for Clarity Workshare starts at $6,000, and there is an upgrade path to Clarity LT or Clarity. Clarity LT starts at $10,000; Clarity for Revit Server starts at $25,000. Maintenance and installation are extra. You can add more hosts, Accelerators, and task servers as needed. There is no limit to the number of locations.

Those are some high pricetags. In fact, the price is the only thing I don't like about IMAGINiT Clarity. The cost of adding IMAGINiT Clarity to our Revit Server farm, which entailed purchasing the software as well as four additional servers to support approximately 250 users in North America, was approximately $26,000 — which exceeded the cost of creating our Revit Server farm.

When we added Revit Server to our offices, we saw an immediate improvement in project performance — significant and concrete improvements, such as reducing save and open times by as much as 90%. With IMAGINiT Clarity, however, the benefits are not as easily measured. Its features make it much easier and more convenient to manage a Revit Server farm, but they do not have an immediate impact on the staff that is billable. This makes it difficult at best to justify the expense to management in these very tough economic times. You can say that the task and report tools save you time by automatically generating PDFs and room data sheets — and they do. But when IMAGINiT Clarity costs more than the infrastructure that it supports, you'll likely need more than anecdotal evidence to justify the expense.

To that end, IMAGINiT will provide a tool upon request to help you calculate your organization's specific return on investment for Clarity. I encourage you to use it.

It is the price of IMAGINiT Clarity that compels me to give a "B" grade to what is otherwise an "A" product.

Wrapping Up

IMAGINiT Clarity is an incredible tool and performs as advertised. It's easy to set up, use, and maintain. With it, I was even able to resolve a difficult model lock issue while on a flight by using my iPad and the onboard Wi-Fi. Price aside, I would highly recommend IMAGINiT Clarity to everyone using Revit Server for worksharing.


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