Looking to capitalize on recent advances in cloud computing, software maker Bentley Systems launched the Connect edition of its design suite at its 2015 Connections event, held in Philadelphia on May 18-19. First announced in November 2014, the Connect edition of Bentley's popular software, including Microstation and Navigator, will be available to Bentley subscribers in an early access program rolling out this summer.

CEO Greg Bentley explains that the Connect edition combines a common modeling environment with a common project-performance environment and a common asset-performance environment. Tapping the Microsoft Azure cloud service, the system "extends beyond design integration to connect together everything, creating common data environments that maintain relationships across federated data sources," he says.

But unlike competitors such as Autodesk, Bentley isn't shifting to a fully cloud-based experience. "We're not moving to the cloud. We're adding new capabilities that the cloud empowers into the mix," says Huw Roberts, Bentley vice president. "There's a lot of reasons you'll want to be in a hybrid data environment—on your desktop, on your device, in the cloud or keep it all local. So, what we're creating is a common data environment that ties all of that data together."

According to Roberts, the cloud-based environment will be largely transparent to users of the Connect edition. "If I'm an architect working in Microstation, my software is connected to the project I am working on and knows all of the standards about how to present every decision I make—how to graphically present things, what codes to use, what workflows to use and the approval process for my work within the project." Roberts says the new Connect service also will be backwards-compatible with older versions of Bentley's and competitor's software, citing its many users working in mixed environments.