From BIM 360 programs and remote desktop protocols to amped-up graphics-processing units, cloud-based tools are the top priorities of Autodesk. The cloud theme rang out at the firm's Autodesk University 2012 conference in Las Vegas last month. Many companies at the conference featured cloud technology that helps smooth remote access to large amounts of data or functions as a powerful workstation.

Anthony Governanti, Autodesk's technical marketing manager, found his BIM 360 booth very popular during the conference.

"It's one click to BIM," Governanti told the users crowding around his booth and during his demonstration. "What we're trying to do is revolutionize the process at the point of construction. It's already happening because everyone in the field has iPads, so we're leveraging that."

The BIM 360 suite aims to kill reliance on third-party file transferring and move away from multiple CAD iterations to let many users edit one file instantly and simultaneously in the cloud. Some conference attendees asked if this is currently possible. Governanti says BIM 360's Glue and Field products do it now.

Some other attendees were accessing their own private, powerful cloud-computing stations via remote desktop protocol (RDP) to run Revit and other programs on older computers.

Under the guidance of consultant IMSCAD, London, one CAD manager from Montreal is test-driving an RDP design machine for her firm to model CAD from remote offices. The service she uses, TSplus, allows multiple users to access the same machine simultaneously, she says. Her motive was partly economic: It's the difference between buying many souped-up $4,000 machines or one remote RDP machine at $15,000. With just over three users, you break even. She found that 10 users is the magic number—with no lag.

Working remotely isn't bullet-proof. If servers go down, cloud users are stranded. This happened as recently as last October, when Amazon's EC2 servers, which host BIM 360, went down for 15 minutes.