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Is it time to revisit CAD in the Cloud?


CAD in the Cloud. It’s a topic I thought I’d never return to. It’s a topic that won’t go away, although the context in which you hear about it these days is changing. I want to look at CAD in the cloud from my usual point of view – that of the CAD user. In Solid Edge circles, the CAD user is often very close to the person making the purchase decisions.


The CAD market isn’t unified. That’s good news. There are all sorts of different needs for CAD. Big companies, little companies, individual contractors, teachers, students, hobbyists, companies that do civil engineering, architecture, fabric and clothing, consumer goods, automotive, giant industrial machinery, modeling molecules, using CAD to create marketing materials, electronics, CNC machining, 3D scanning, 3D printing, motion analysis, crime scene analysis, visualization, manufacturing, it’s an exhausting list of people and organizations that have different needs.


The fact that there are so many different needs means that there is a lot of room for different products. No one product is going to answer the needs of the entire market. CAD is a technical solution used by engineers and designers. It’s graphical, geometrical, spatial software, but the context in which it is being used matters. As does who is using it.


The cloud is something entirely different. The cloud has nothing to do with CAD, really. The cloud is all about how you deliver the software, and/or about how you store the data. It’s IT. There was a time when all CAD software was delivered across a network to individual terminals, and the data was stored centrally. People about my age who remember this sort of thing generally refer to that as the “bad old days”. Working on terminals that had to log in to a mainframe was inconvenient. If the mainframe was down, no one could do anything.


The personal computer (PC) revolution was such a big hit because it gave you more flexibility. Everyone had their own computer. It took us out of the collective, and made us individuals again. In the mid 90s, along with Windows NT, this meant that we could start using our technical engineering applications on PCs, which were far less expensive and restrictive when compared to mainframe setups.


“CAD in The Cloud” promises to send us back to the mainframe/terminal arrangement. Whether it’s a local cloud, on your company’s LAN or a public cloud on Amazon or IBM, or a private cloud you access over the internet, it’s the same idea as the mainframe/terminal. But is it a good thing, or a bad thing?


There are a lot of advantages of CAD in the Cloud. It takes less effort to administer, because all of the install, update, and hardware concerns are centralized. Well, except the access, which requires high bandwidth everywhere you want to run CAD. Because of the issues with ubiquitous bandwidth requirement, this advantage is kind of nullified. Especially since even a Microsoft Surface tablet hybrid has enough power to run full blown Solid Edge. So you can take your Surface fishing in Hinton, West Virginia, where there is no 4G, no wifi, no high-speed internet connection of any kind. And still get work done. And of course fish.


And then there’s the Cloud's advantage of not needing high end hardware, because all the heavy computing is done centrally. Except that the one thing you really need to run CAD is a big monitor or multiple monitors, which unfortunately can’t be handled centrally.


And finally, the storage. You know, keep your company’s CAD data in a location accessible from anywhere in the world. Storage space is cheap. That means two things. It means companies that want to store your data are going to spring up like weeds, and storing it yourself will be cheaper than ever. If you’re accessing any of that data from a mobile device, you are paying to access it over and over again, due to the data caps on mobile access. Storing music on the cloud is a little pointless, even if the cloud storage is “free”. You’ve paid for the music, now you pay to upload it, and download it every time you listen to it. Will this model work on a corporate scale, or even for a small business? Or even an individual on a budget and a keen sense of when he's paying too much?


There are two articles that I would like to point out for you. The first one is by Robert Green, the guy who writes a lot about CAD management of Autodesk products. It’s worth noting that Autodesk is one CAD vendor that either has or has not (depending on who you hear tell the story) claimed that all of their products will be accessible only from the web one day. They currently deliver CAD in the Cloud with Fusion 360.


Robert Green doesn’t seem very optimistic about CAD in the Cloud for most businesses. “Until the business and technical issues around renting cloud-based CAD software are 100% resolved, this option will continue to be rejected by most of the market.” For someone so closely tied to a vendor with such cloudy ambitions, that’s a pretty strong statement.


And finally, I was reading the news this morning, and found an article on the Dell website about how, a code-hosting company lost all of their customer’s data (and backups) due to a breach, and were out of business within a day.


For all of these reasons, I like the approach that Siemens PLM has when it comes to the cloud. Solid Edge does not appear to have any cloud aspirations at this time, but there are versions of enterprise software that will allow for local cloud set up. Giving the customer the choice and the control without coercing them is the right thing to do.


CAD in the Cloud may be the right thing to do for businesses that are not trying to keep data private. But I’m going to guess that’s a minority. There may indeed be a market for what industry sees more and more with each passing week as generally a bad idea, but it’s going to be a small niche. The more I see what the rest of the industry is learning, the more I’m confident that Solid Edge is on the right track and making the best decisions in this area.


Hi Matt, interesting thoughts... I think to look on CAD in the cloud as a mainframe terminal is probably too narrow. To value of collaboration and global availability cannot be avoided and this is huge part of cloud software. Here are some of my additional thoughts...


Here is why CAD in the cloud is more than mainframe terminal --


Best, Oleg

Gears Esteemed Contributor

YIKES...still too soon! CAD & Cloud are not good bed fellows, IMHO.


It took me this long to just to melow out enough to comment on the topic, well, politely. Robot Embarassed


Sorry but until the Internet is more secure (which I doubt it will ever truly be) the CAD on the Cloud argument is dead in the water.


Just this morning the headlines are blarring:

Russian Hackers Steal 1.2 Billion Usernames, Passwords


So I wish the Tech Industry would spend more time on Security then these stupid ideas that are great on paper but haven't dealt with the Security of IP and ownership of the Data and what it respresents.


As Matt states in this article:

"Solid Edge does not appear to have any cloud aspirations at this time, but there are versions of enterprise software that will allow for local cloud set up. Giving the customer the choice and the control without coercing them is the right thing to do."


And that is truly comforting to know. Yes we all run the risk of our own systems being hacked, but I don't need anymore help from 3rd parties in screwing myself.... I seem to do fine on my own!






You're right. To be fair, I didn't include the distributed computing component, which is something not considered in the mainframe comparison. But on the other hand, regardless of the benefit, the price to pay is just too high. You can do distributed computing locally as well, inside your LAN. Some companies may not consider their data very important, maybe the value they provide is a special proprietary process, or doing things really fast. But I'll leave it to you to ask a bunch of design executives what sort of benefit would be worth risking their entire IP portfolio. Maybe you can tell us what sorts of responses you get.


I agree making use of the cloud would make a lot of things easier and more convenient, but this is not a one dimensional decision that companies have to make. As long as there are persistent individuals, organizations, and even states bent on digital theft or mischief, sometimes for no profit at all, we have to balance all of the convenience against the possibility of the data winding up in the wrong hands. Add to that the risk of infrastructure failure, and now you have a decision to make.


Some companies are actively trying to distribute their data. Local Motors is one. It sounds like Tesla is headed that direction with saying they encourage other companies to use their patents. Security is still a question, however, because of the example where the original data was completely erased.


Anyway, thanks for adding to the discussion.

Gears Esteemed Contributor

Aside from the various types of "cloud" usage and security concerns, you also have to realize that your inexpensive DSL/Cable internet from the local telephone/cable company is not robust enough for some "Cloud" based solutions.  If you are looking for ultimate up-time and reliability for real-time storage or application hosting, then you are going to be paying a fortune for "T" type internet connections.  A "T1" starts at $300/month but only gets you 1.5 Mb/s.  A "T3" can cost $3000 just to get 45 Mb/s.